MUBI UK film review: I, Olga
Ivan Radford | On 19, Nov 2016
Directors: Petr Kazda, Tomas Weinreb
Cast: Michalina Olszanska
Watch I, Olga online in the UK: MUBI UK
In 1973, a 22 year old woman ran over eight people in the streets of Prague. She pleaded guilty. What drove her to such an act? What makes a real life murderer? That’s the question that I, Olga attempts to answer – and the result is compelling to watch.
Olga made clear her own views on the matter in her trial, which she seizes as a platform to shine a light on her cause: to get revenge on a horrible, cruel world. It might sound like an exaggerated or far-fetched claim, but I, Olga unpicks exactly where that desire to strike back at the world comes from.
Telling her life chronologically, we’re treated to a methodical account of the abuse that she faced. Shot in black-and-white by directors Petr Kazda, Tomas Weinreb, it’s unflinchingly blunt in its detail, downplaying everything to make it sickeningly realistic. Bullied at school, an outsider in society, she’s faced that victimhood from a young girl all the way through to adulthood. At the age of 13, she tried to commit suicide, only to be told by her mother that she didn’t have the willpower to do it.
Michalina Olszanska is extraordinary in the lead role, barely speaking for much of the runtime and when she does, speaking with a glowering, bleak intensity that is never overplayed. “People talk just to say something and believe that’s quite fine,” she observes at one point, cooly, while staring blankly at the world. That sentiment spreads into every department of the production: the script takes care never to sensationalise anything. There’s no music to speak of, few smiles, and even the monochrome visuals give this the feeling of a documentary more than a drama. It’s rare to find a period film where nostalgia is completely absent, or a horror movie where the shocks are so mundane; everything is as precise, careful and measured as its protagonist.
That makes for an occasionally frustrating watch, due to the movie’s steady, plodding pace and lack of overt engagement; the determinedly detached style dares us to sympathise with the young woman suffering this non-stop onslaught, but also forces us to take a step back. On the one hand, that makes for a tasteful movie – the silence in Olga’s home suggests all kinds of unseen, unsettling mistreatment – but compared to the recent, similar drama Christine, starring Rebecca Hall, which was more successful at fleshing out its central subject, particularly in terms of her romantic life, you almost wish there was some speculation at play.
Olszanska, though, is what keeps you hooked; she channels that relentless, vaguely repetitive approach into the harsh, unchanging nature of Olga’s experience, both as a child and an adult. By the time we’ve see her multiple homicide – presented as matter-of-factly as everything else – and she’s justifying it in court, you can almost appreciate where she’s coming from; this is a calculated, chilling study of the consequences of abuse that subtly pushes you into the mind-space of a killer. Is Olga schizophrenic or simply implementing her own sociopathic logic? The fact that you’re even asking yourself that question just makes it all the more unsettling.
I, Olga is not currently avvailable online.