- Golden Globe Awards
Olga (Switzerland, France, Ukraine)
Filmed in Switzerland by French director Elie Grappe, who co-wrote the story with Raphaëlle Desplechin, Swiss entry Olga is Grappe’s full-length feature film directorial debut. This 85-minute movie is the story of a teenage Ukrainian gymnast en route to the Olympics who is forced to leave her native country because of political unrest. She keeps training for the European Gymnastics Championship in Switzerland while her homeland is torn by the revolution.
Set in 2013, this sports/geopolitical drama opens with a scene in which 15-year-old Ukrainian gymnast Olga and her mother Ilona (played by Tania Mikhina) get into a severe car accident. A political journalist and activist, Ilona realizes that the incident was an intentional assault, and decides to send her teenage daughter away to Switzerland where she can stay with her Swiss father and be safe.
Olga, whose dream is to get to the Olympics, has some challenges ahead of her in Switzerland. She does not speak the language, and this barrier makes her journey to the championship even more demanding. Moreover, to qualify to take part in the European Gymnastics Championship as a member of the Swiss National Team, she is required to become a Swiss citizen; however, in order to do so, she must renounce her Ukrainian passport. This would be quite a complicated decision even for an adult person; Olga experiences immense pressure, and this situation becomes a tough test of her will.
Meanwhile, the political situation in her home city of Kiev intensifies, and Olga’s mother as well as her best friend Sasha (played by Sabrina Rubtsova) join the thousands of people in sometimes violent street protests. Elie Grappe didn’t use footage of the actual protests in Kiev; however, all the scenes in the movie featuring the protest movement known as Euromaidan are actual videos made by protesters back in 2013. We see Olga watching those scenes either on YouTube or when she is Face Timing with her mother or Sasha, and all this makes her training even harder.
Elie Grappe’s movie was inspired by the story of internationally acclaimed violinist Yarina Tynio, who came to Switzerland from Ukraine just before the Euromaidan revolt erupted in Kiev. Tynio shared her experience with Grappe while they were shooting an earlier documentary, he made about a music orchestra: hearing her story fired him with the desire to tell it on film, although he has replaced the world of music with that of professional gymnastics, where the stakes are even higher.
With sports being at the core of his story, Grippe, a graduate from Lausanne University of Art & Design (ECAL), was determined to use a professional gymnast instead of working with professional actresses and stunt doubles. After a few weeks of scouting for his future star, he found Anastasia Budiashkina, a former professional gymnast from the Ukraine National Team, who is currently studying to become a gymnastics coach. Phenomenal cinematography by Lucie Baudinaud spotlights all the essential elements of competitive gymnastics. And with the help of a music score by Pierre Desprats, Grappe – who spent 10 years studying classical music at the Lyon National Conservatory – has managed to capture on-screen both the beauty and the dark side of professional gymnastics.
Olga premiered at the Critics’ Week in Cannes earlier this year, where the film received the SACD Award for the best script. It has also been screened at several European Film Festivals, including BIFF in Brussels (Belgium) and the Hamburg Film Festival (Germany).