I, Olga Hepnarová


Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Michalina Olszanska in I, Olga Hepnarová
"While the narrative framework may not quite go the distance, the shot choices are never less than exquisite."

Austerity rings through virtually every frame of Petr Kazda and Tomás Weinreb's directorial feature debut I, Olga Hepnarová, thanks to their choice of a monochrome palette and lingering, locked off shots that are happy to make the viewer wait, unsettled and fidgety, in a corridor for a character to return to the screen. This bleak atmosphere is appropriate for a girl who, while not a household name outside the Czech Republic and Slovakia, would become infamous in her homeland as the last Czechoslovak woman to be executed.

Hepnarová is presented for a large chunk of the film as an enigmatic presence. We see her attempt at suicide as a youngster and, more tellingly, her mother's (Klara Meliskova) response to it - “To commit suicide you need a strong will, something you certainly don’t have,” she is told dismissively, a typical interaction in a relationship that we come to see is almost entirely transactional rather than tender. Then we are immersed in her subsequent experiences of bullying, with a hint of sexual abuse lying just beyond the edges of the screen. Kazda and Weinreb bathe us in her isolation, a carefully constructed separateness that is as much a result of her pushing the rest of the world away as from ostracisation.

Copy picture

Michalina Olszanska, so mesmerisingly dangerous in The Lure, employs a similar intensity here while allowing a perma-smoking, gauche vulnerability to glitter through the cracks. Passionate and frank scenes of lesbian sex are also well-handled, offering one of several indications that self-proclaimed “sexual cripple” Hepnarová was no more sure of her own psychology or motivations than we are.

It is perhaps a shame that the film is based on a true story, as there comes a point at which the directors seem honour-bound to exercise due diligence, jettisoning their early ambivalence in order to incorporate large segments of writing and statements made by Hepnarová herself. These chunks of polemic apply a cinematic brake to proceedings, making much of the latter section an exercise in subtitle reading for non-Czech audiences rather than a dramatic experience, as we follow Hepnarová past her crime and into the court room beyond, where her conviction and the court's are explored. While the narrative framework may not quite go the distance, the shot choices are never less than exquisite, whether we are being forced to think while we wait or thrust between shots of stillness and violence, suggesting we'll be hearing more, and better, from this directorial duo down the line.

Reviewed on: 12 Jul 2016
Share this with others on...
Period drama about a real-life murderer.
Amazon link

Director: Petr Kazda, Tomás Weinreb

Writer: Roman Cílek, Tomás Weinreb, Petr Kazda

Starring: Michalina Olszanska, Martin Pechlát, Klára Melísková, Marika Soposká, Juraj Nvota, Martin Finger, Marta Mazurek, Ondrej Malý, Petra Nesvacilová, Ivan Palúch, Gabriela Mícová, Zuzana Stavná, Jan Novotny, Viktor Vrabec, Malwina Turek

Year: 2016

Runtime: 105 minutes

Country: Czech Republic, Poland, Slovakia, France

Search database: