Eli Grappe: “There is no sport without politics”

Eli Grappe: “There is no sport without politics”

Eli Grappe: « There is no sport without politics

Anastasia Budyashkina. «Olga». Courtesy photo   Eli Grappe: «There is no sport without politics»

Olga, a movie drama directed by Eli Grappe, hit theaters in New York last weekend and will begin screening in Los Angeles and other US cities on July 8. The American distributor of the film, co-produced by France, Ukraine and Switzerland, is the art house film company Kino Lorber.

The film had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival, in the Critic's Week section, where it received one of the awards. The picture represented Switzerland in the Oscar race, but was not among the nominees.

Mother and daughter

November 2013. 15-year-old Ukrainian gymnast Olga, who moved to Switzerland, trains fanatically in preparation for the European Championships. But in her heart and soul she is at home. Autumn 2013, and Euromaidan flares up in Kyiv, where Olga is from…

According to the Guardian newspaper, the film “makes you feel the pain of exile that millions of Ukrainians are experiencing today.” Film publication Screen Daily calls it “a compelling psychological portrait of time.”

Olga is looking for herself in a new European reality, so unlike life in her native Ukraine. The talented gymnast, played by Anastasia Budyashkina, dreams of an Olympic gold medal and trains hard, perfecting complex elements such as Jaeger's somersault on uneven bars. She develops a difficult relationship with Swiss coaches and other girls, colleagues on the national gymnastics team.

But her main pain and concern is the well-being of her mother, a fearless investigative journalist who boldly exposes the corruption of President Yanukovych and his circle. They try to intimidate her, they beat her severely. Actually, because of fears for Olga's life, they hastily organize her departure to Switzerland. Olga has a legal basis for this. Her now deceased father was a citizen of this country. The daughter is constantly in touch with her mother, trying to persuade her to back down, not to risk herself.

The film makes extensive use of Euromaidan newsreel, and, according to the director, he only used amateur videos from YouTube.

Elie Grappe:

Still from the film. Courtesy photo

Olga director and co-writer Elie Grappe was born in Lyon in 1994. Studied music and cinema. Directed several short films shown at international film festivals.

The performer of the role of Olga Budyashkina Anastasia (Anastasia Budyashkina) was born in 2001 in Lugansk. In 2014, when fighting broke out in eastern Ukraine, she moved to Kyiv. From the age of four she was engaged in gymnastics and was later included in the national team of Ukraine.

Fates and characters

Eli Grappe and Anastasia Budyashkina answered the questions of the Russian Service correspondent « Voice of America” via Zoom.

Oleg Sulkin:Eli, you were serious about music. Why did they choose gymnastics, the world of sports, for their first big film?

Eli Grappe: Yes, I studied classical music for ten years at the Conservatoire National de Lyon. Then he entered the film department of the ECAL art school in Lausanne, from which he graduated in 2015. I directed a short film about ballet dancers and then co-directed a documentary about a classical music orchestra. I met a Ukrainian violinist who came to Switzerland shortly before the Maidan. I was deeply impressed by her indignation at how brutally the police cracked down on demonstrators in Kyiv. Her emotionality gave me the key to the character of Olga, who is torn between the personal and the collective in search of her identity. In general, gymnastics really fascinated me. As a sport, it is very cinematic, full of beauty, passion, pain, inspiration and even mysticism. It is impossible not to feel how vulnerable and vulnerable young gymnasts.

O.S.: Have you been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic?

A.G.: Raffaella Desplechin and I started writing the script in 2016, and Filming was supposed to start in 2020. But they stopped for a long time due to the pandemic. And only nine months later we were able to complete the work.

Elie Grappe:

Frame from the film. Courtesy photo

O.S.: What was the hardest part of filming?

E.G.: passion, all the enthusiasm of young gymnasts who give their best both during training and during competitions. People often think that today's teenagers are generally lazy and indifferent. But this is not so, they just often hide their feelings and fears.

Their body is going through serious age-related changes that affect the psyche and often cause problems.

О.С.: Olga's mother is a journalist who investigates the corruption of the Yanukovych regime and hourly risks her health and life. Her father, a Swiss citizen, has died, and Olga communicates with his family. Did you take these and other details from real life? Is this someone's specific destiny?

EG:Some of these details, which I transferred to the film, are taken from the stories of the Ukrainian violinist, whom I have already mentioned. And the rest I accumulated from many stories that I was told about by refugees from Ukraine who ended up in Switzerland.

OS: So Olga is a collective image?

EG: That's right. All characters are fictional. I really liked watching the teenage emotions of gymnasts, their fears, conflicting desires. They believed me and plunged into the filming process with amazing fearlessness. On the set, I asked them to put their own words, feelings and thoughts into the characters of their heroines.

O.S.: On February 24, with the beginning of Russia's aggression, life in Ukraine changed dramatically. Everything changes, including the perception of films. How did you feel these changes yourself?

EG:I think that the film reminds the foreign viewer that the war has already been going on since 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and began to help the separatists in the Donbass. That is, I dare to hope that the film can help people feel the prerequisites for the war and its background. We tell a poignant human story, and we call on viewers, wherever they live, to help Ukraine and its people in every possible way, going through tragic times. It will take years and years for the wounds to heal.

OS:The theme of emigration also comes to the fore in the film. Millions of Ukrainians left their houses and apartments, saving themselves and their children from death, left the country, becoming refugees. Olga's story fits into this narrative. The new reality does not make your film obsolete. On the contrary, the film is even more relevant than before.

EG: I'm glad you got that feeling. Of course, Olga is a refugee, but a privileged refugee. She has a goal – to achieve high sports results, to become a champion. But, like many other forced emigrants, nostalgia, a burning desire to return does not leave her.

OS: Can sport exist outside of politics?

E.G.:You can talk about this topic for a long time. I will try to summarize. Our film is about a man who is convinced that sport cannot exist outside of politics. And she, as an athlete, cannot ignore political realities. Every step she takes, every choice she makes is connected with politics. If we talk about big politics, the war radicalized even those institutions that had previously tried to remain neutral. Thus, the Swiss Gymnastics Federation condemned the war in Ukraine and declared its readiness to help Ukrainian gymnasts.

“I love being ahead”

Oleg Sulkin: What are your friends' names? Anastasia? Nastya?

Anastasia Budyashkina: Nastya.

OS:Nastya, I watched the film with interest, and it seemed to me important that the intrigue around your heroine Olga remains until the last frame. Many sports films suffer from predictability. Here the tension does not subside, because it is obvious that Olga can do the most unexpected things. Tell us how Elie Grappe found you?

A.B.: I was at a competition in Bern in 2016. Eli saw me there. We returned to Ukraine. One day, two people came to the gym in Kyiv, where I was training. One of them was Eli, the other was a translator. Eli invited me to the casting to try out, without any guarantees. He said that he liked me back in Bern because I was noticeably worried, that I was noticeably afraid to make a mistake during the performance and let the team down.

Eli Grappe:

A frame from the film. Courtesy photo

О.С.: How do you feel about your character? Are you different in real life?

AB: Somewhere I am the same as Olga, somewhere completely different. I am also stubborn and purposeful, I do not like to trail behind, I like to be ahead. If someone is ahead of me, I do everything to overtake my opponent. But Olga sometimes does strange things. For example, he deliberately breaks his leg in order to return to Ukraine. I would never do that. I love myself, I'm neat.

О.С.: The relationship between Olga and her mother cannot be called simple. How is it in your family? Are you close to your parents?

A.B.: There were some difficult moments as a child, but now that I am older, my mother leaves the decision to me .

OS:Where are your parents now?

AB: Mother and father live in the Poltava region, and my grandmother lives in Lugansk.

Oh. S.: Are you in contact with them?

A.B.: Yes, both with mom and dad. Unfortunately, with my grandmother, the most dear person for me, there has been no connection lately. Internet in Luhansk was turned off due to fighting.

Eli Grappe:

Frame from the film. Courtesy photo

OS: It's obviously very dangerous there. Grandma isn't going to leave?

AB: She can't, she's looking after her sister. And the parents are not going to leave yet, in the Poltava region it seems to be relatively calm. But I'm very worried about them all.

O.S.: I read in the press that you moved to Poland.

A.B.: That's not entirely true. Yes, I came to Poland, but I saw that with a huge flow of refugees from Ukraine, it is almost impossible to find a job there, even the simplest one. At the same time, I received an invitation to Switzerland, to Zurich, for the national film awards ceremony. Our film “Olga” received three awards, including the award for the best film of the year. I am now in Lausanne, studying at the university, training, preparing to perform in the circus. Sport has faded into the background so far, but the circus is the same sport. Now my task is to get refugee status. I have been living in Switzerland for three months now. I like it here, and there are more opportunities for an expat.