I’ve been so focused on getting through my book reviews lately that other cultural experiences were temporarily shelved, so it’s time to get back on track and catch up. This blog was, after all, set up to showcase international culture and in an attempt to experience and document examples the full gamut of culture – books, art, film and TV, music and food – from every country of the world.
Earlier this year I went to see a screening of the prize-winning 2021 Swiss film Olga, which stars 20-year-old Ukrainian gymnast Anastasia Budiashkina (a previous member of the Ukrainian national team), and was directed by female director Elie Grappe (my blog tries to shine a spotlight on female directors in what remains a male-dominated industry).
Olga is a successful gymnast who, owing to her late father’s Swiss nationality, has the chance to leave Ukraine to train in Switzerland, in the hope of securing a place on the Swiss national team. Despite her athletic successes, however, she feels cut off from her friends and her mum, especially when the Euromaidan revolution breaks out back home in Kyiv.
Olga is stubbornly resilient but refuses to plaster on a smile when she doesn’t feel like smiling, and has a difficult time bonding with some of her other team members. Despite her tough and even unsympathetic exterior though, in private she is desperately homesick, and anxieties rise as her family and friends at home become caught up in the protests, especially given her mother’s work as an investigative journalist has brought her into constant confrontation with the Russian-backed authorities in place at the time.
The Ukraine-set parts of the film were in Ukrainian, subtitled in English, whereas once the action moved to Switzerland the language largely switched to French (with subtitles). Unfortunately, the subtitling in my showing broke down around halfway through the film. Given I theoretically have degree-level French, I stayed put and watched the rest of the film, but inevitably had to do a bit of guesswork, so I may have missed some later nuance!
Given the ongoing conflict in Ukraine, this film was a bittersweet watch, but it was also a really involving coming-of-age story. Life imitates art, given that Budiashkina is now based in Switzerland, having fled Ukraine at the beginning of the war.