Olga 2022 Movie Review
Events have lent an explosive new significance to this prophetic movie about the agony of exile from debut director Elie Grappe, which showed at Cannes last year and is now being released in UK cinemas to raise money for Ukrainian refugees. It concerns Olga, a dedicated teenage Ukrainian gymnast, excellently played by the real-life Ukrainian gymnast Anastasia Budiashkina, who herself last week arrived in Poland after escaping Kharkiv.
In the movie, Olga leaves her homeland for Switzerland during the 2014 Maidan revolution to compete for the Swiss team during the European championships in Stuttgart. Her widowed mother was able to get her out to safety because Olga’s dad was Swiss, and she herself is being threatened by the state for her work as an investigative journalist uncovering corruption during the pro-Russian presidency. Olga is lonely, tired, scared, reflexively suspicious of her Swiss hosts – but also a superb competitor who can obliterate all her anxieties with her fanatical commitment to work in this state-of-the-art Swiss gym. But as the tough training programme continues and Olga’s tricky relationship with her sullen French- and Italian-speaking teammates gets complicated, the news comes through of how Ukraine (and her mother) are under brutal assault. Olga is wretched with remorse for leaving her friends and family for the bland safeness of Switzerland. The power, athleticism and beauty of her gymnastics now have a new choreography of guilt and rage.
This is a film whose ideas and emotions have come into a fierce new focus. And there is an almost unbearable ironic flavour to the ending, which imagines a kind of emotional closure in 2020, a chastened acceptance of a precarious peace bought with bloody struggle all the way back in 2014. And the choice of Switzerland for Olga’s flag of convenience is a brilliant piece of symbolism. Olga is, in her troubled way, emblematic of Ukraine’s yearning for a new European identity, a peaceful and prosperous modernity and a (very Swiss) neutrality, in which its independence can be cocooned.
But Olga is to see how there is also something evasive in her Swiss exile. She is mortified at the courage of the Ukrainian gymnasts when she comes face-to-face with them at the Euro championships and is convulsed with anger at the sight of one of them who has gone over to the Russians. In its unexpected way, this film speaks to the new agony of banishment now being felt by millions of Ukrainians, and to the profound unease and concern and impotence spreading westward across Europe.