I, OLGA HEPNAROVA
Outsider Pictures and Strand Releasing
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, CompuServe Film d-based on Rotten Tomatoes
Director: Tomas Weinreb, Petr Kazda
Written by: Tomas Weinreb, Petr Kazda, story by Roman Cilek “Ja Olga Hepnarova
Cast: Michalina Olszanska, Martin Pechlat, Klara Meliskova, Marika Soposka, Juraj Nvota, Marta Mazurek, Zuzana Stavna
Screened at: Review 2, NYC, 3/14/17
Opens: March 24, 2017
Murder is a man’s game. There are far more Ted Bundys than there are Lizzie Bordens. In fact so few women commit murder worldwide that you remember the few who have committed the ultimate offense. Still, one wonders how many people outside of the Czech Republic heard of Olga Hepnarova, who not only killed eight people at once but was the last woman executed in her country. Now there’s Tomas Weinreb and Petr Kazda’s “I, Olga Hepnarova, a film which could inspire more people to order Roman Cilek’s paperback book from Amazon, where it lies awaiting a single review.
The facts, however cherry-picked, could have been made into a Hollywood blockbuster film, an intense melodrama like Robert Wise’s 1958 movie “I Want to Live,” featuring Rita Hayworth as Barbara Graham who is executed for murder. Or it could have been done in the style of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s 1989 “Dekalogue,” a series of films based on the 10 Commandments one of which involves not only murder but a grisly look at what happens to a condemned criminal at the moment he is hanged. In fact, “Olga,” like “I Want to Live,” is done in a film noir manner, but is more like “Dekalogue,” in that the nourish, black-and-white photography by Adam Sikora exudes a color-free image of cinema verité journalism. Director Tomas Weinreb is known to Czech audiences for his “Vsechno Je Sraka” about a fellow who spent half a year in a relationship with a murderer before the crime (so this movie is right up his alley). Petr Kazda shares the director’s chair in his freshman film.
It’s easy to figure out the bleak, black-and-white tone of the film: it’s a reflection of the troubled mind of Olga Hepnarova (Michalina Olszanska), a young woman who was abused or ignored by her father (Vickor Vrabek) and mother (Klara Meliskova). Her mother is a dentist whose communication with Olga goes little further than writing prescriptions for drugs that could ease the young woman’s confused mind. Olga perhaps exaggerates the extent of her bullying by women her own age and her parents, even her teachers. We don’t see much of it on screen. Why is she the one who is picked on, since after all, bullied subjects are generally outliers in their communities? This could be because of her introversion, her unwillingness to connect with others, or maybe even her lesbianism, which she discovered late in her teens leading her into a brief relationship with Jitka (Marika Soposka). But Jitka threw her over for one Jana, her regular bedmate, leading Olga to travel further down the road to depression.
Theme-wise, there’s nothing new about a woman who thirsts for revenge against a society that she believes he done her wrong. The more melodramatic film on the subject, “Carrie,” shows the title figure bringing mayhem upon her town through telekinesis. Olga has no super-powers, but this woman, who is considered a tomboy and therefore given a job as the driver of a truck, one day mows down twenty elderly people on the sidewalk, killing eight. She dooms herself several times: first by telling the arresting officer, who suggests that she fell asleep at the wheel or that the brakes did not hold, “I did it on purpose.” Then she begs the five-judge panel to give her the death penalty so that her crime would achieve international coverage, leading the greater society to see what harms are committed by bullying.
As stated, this is not a movie for “Carrie” fans or for advocates of blockbuster melodrama, but is rather a serious, sometimes ponderous work involving several instances of the camera’s simply standing till in an empty hallway, or gazing at Olga’s face, which is usually downcast and sad. The most significant feature, one that could lead to appreciation for an audience not too big on stasis, is Michalina Olszanka’s somber performance of the troubled lass. She served as a memaid in Agnieszka Smoczynska’s “The Lure” and later this year in Andrey Malyukov’s “Sobibor,” based on a true story about an escape from an extermination camp. You can believe that she can kill.
“I, Olga Hepnarova” was filmed in Dolnoslaskie, Poland with dialogue in Czech. There is no mood music on the soundtrack. Did I say this is serious stuff?
Unrated. 105 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
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