Set in the months preceding and during the 2014 Ukrainian Revolution of Dignity, Olga follows a 15-year-old Olympic hopeful who is forced to flee the country after her mother is targeted for criticising the county’s former president Viktor Yanukovych. Offered a position on the Swiss national team, Olga is forced to make the difficult decision between rejecting her Ukrainian citizenship in order to fulfil her dreams, and staying true to her friends and family. As revolution looms however, Olga finds herself a bystander watching from afar as those she loves are dragged into the political turmoil that engulfs Kyiv.

Through its headstrong protagonist, the film deftly examines the mindset of a teenage girl that is on the verge of greatness yet at the same time engulfed with anxiety created from circumstances outside of her control. Elie Grappe delves deeply into the intersection between both the personal and the political, and is unafraid to examine the psychological toll that is exacted upon young athletes to perform at the level expected of them. In doing so, he rejects the kitschy hallmarks one might expect from sports films in favour of something far more nuanced.

Much of the civil unrest in Ukraine is depicted through the snippets that Olga herself sees online or hears from her mother and friends. Through this, the film smartly exacerbates the sense of isolation weighing on the young gymnast during her time at the remote training camp. Grappe clearly has an eye for realism and touches such as these make the film feel all the more grounded as a result. 

This sense of realism is only aided by Grappe’s casting of actual gymnasts as Olga and her teammates. Anastasiia Budiashkina does a good job as Olga, successfully capturing the frustrations that Olga feels as well as her almost robotic determination to succeed. That said, there are weighty emotional moments that feel somewhat lacking due to the inexperience of the actors, but these are forgivable as melodrama would arguably feel out of place amidst the rest of the film. 

That’s ultimately part of the charm of Olga. There’s an understated quality to the film that still casts a long shadow through its willingness to convey mental health struggles in young athletes, and highlight the hypocritical nature of supposedly apolitical global sporting events. It’s a powerful piece and Grappe is certainly a filmmaker to watch out for in the future.

Screening as part of Glasgow Film Festival 2022