I, Olga (2016) Review

Very well made ... but not exactly a film for the masses.

by Martin Hafer

In Prague, Czechoslovakia in 1973, Olga Hepnarová drove her truck through a crowd of elderly people waiting on the sidewalk.  Olga’s actions were deliberate and planned….and she ended up killing 8 innocent people in the process.  Now, over four decades later, filmmakers Petr Kazda and Tomás Weinreb have brought her story to the big screen—perhaps in light of several similar acts committed throughout the world by jihadists.  But viewers of the film need to be a very specific and patient lot, as the movie clearly is not one intended for the average viewer.

The film begins the teenage Olga attempting suicide and as a result being incarcerated in a rather awful mental hospital.  While the film didn’t make this clear, she apparently was in and out of mental institutions during much of her life.  The film then picks up with Olga as a young adult, working and having various sexual relationships.  The publicity material for the film describes her as a lesbian and the film also takes that approach, though I read up on her and apparently she was bisexual.  I am not sure why they chose to portray her as a lesbian but viewers will see quite a bit of Olga and several of her lovers.  Regardless, this is not a film for the prudish.

It is odd that Olga is shown as being so sexual since she also had a very strong hatred for the human race and felt she was the world’s ‘whipping boy’.  The film uses the German word ‘prügelknabe’—which I had to look up on the internet and I am mentioning this in case you see the film and find yourself confused by the term.  But regardless, Olga hated people and had a very strong persecution complex.  And, as a result, she apparently felt completely justified to murder the people at the bus stop.

Now it’s obvious that Olga was not in her right mind.  She was flat emotionally and intensely angry deep within her.  Most would consider her insane.  However, she knew what she was doing and simply did not care and admitted this freely in court.  So what was the court to do with her?

This is a very well crafted film.  The filmmakers used black & white footage which I think was a good move since the story took place in the late 60s and early 70s.   Michalina Olszanska also did a superb job portraying the title character as it would not be easy playing someone with so little emotion nor with much connection to others.   But this brings up a problem…if the main character is this emotionally constricted and the film is told from her point of view, is it an easy film to watch?  This is obviously no for most people.  You have to have an interest in the subject matter and you have to be very patient, as the film is slow and almost completely bereft of energy.  Olga is severely depressed…and it is draining, at times, watching her.  I was able to stick with this because of my own background as a therapist, though I sure could have done without the vomiting scene early in the film.  I have no idea why in recent years filmmakers have decided to show close-ups of folks throwing up…and I think this is perhaps taking realism a bit too far.  Overall, for the right viewers, I, Olga is well worth seeing but for most it’s just too much of a downer.

Martin's Grade: B+


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