behind the glitter, the torments of a Ukrainian gymnast


Artistic gymnastics had accustomed us to the televised images of the championships, made of lines of exercises, more or less perfect according to the expertise of our gaze. However, it is as a filmmaker of the sensitive that the 27-year-old Franco-Swiss director, Elie Grappe, films the performances of a 15-year-old athlete, in his first feature film, Olga, winner of the SACD prize in Cannes (Critics’ Week) in July. By plunging into his joints and getting closer to his face, he reveals behind the sporting prowess and the sequined leotard the passion and torment that animates Olga.

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Daughter of a Ukrainian political journalist whose head has been set a price for having denounced the corruption in power, Olga (played by the gymnast Anastasia Budiashkina) leaves her country at the end of 2013, as a safety measure. While pro-European demonstrations (Euromaidan) erupt in Kiev, after the government’s decision not to sign an association agreement with the European Union, in favor of a rapprochement with Russia, the young girl joins the women’s team Swiss. But how to aim for the Swiss medal at the European Championships when, beyond 2,000 kilometers, his country is bleeding?

The film therefore tackles two tasks: to show the rise in power of the riots and the precision work of the gymnast imbued with guilt. In this regard, Elie Grappe weaves together two image regimes: fiction takes charge of the training scenes when the archive scrolls through videos filmed by the demonstrators themselves on a telephone screen. . If this back-and-forth turns out to be systematic, a montage as chiseled as the gymnast’s sequences of figures supports the paradox that innervates her learning novel.

Dramatic harshness

On several occasions, we are amazed by the areas of friction between the Ukrainian revolution, plagued by ultranationalists and anti-Semitism, and the hardening of Olga’s pageantry. From the fall of a statue of Lenin unbolted to the suspended body of the teenager at the bar, from the smoke bombs in Maidan Square in Kiev, to the snow-capped firs of the Swiss Alps, from the blows to the demonstrators to the rear flips of the athlete, the filmmaker cultivates dramatic harshness with plastic wonder.

Pierre Desprats’ sound score, designed in close connection with the mobility of tendons and muscles, inflames sports practice

Pierre Desprats’ sound score, designed in close connection with the mobility of tendons and muscles, inflames sports practice: while Olga has lost Ukrainian nationality for the porous Switzerland (where French is spoken, Swiss German and Italian), his gymnastics became political. In its wake, the film turns away from the daily life of the club, including the water sprays sprayed on the uneven bars to imbue the competition with a metaphysical dimension.

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