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Learning Tough (and Lasting) Rules While Coming of Age

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By Roger Costa

OLGA

A determined young Olympic athlete, preparing herself for a life-changing Tournament, is patiently dealing with her mother’s absence, a journalist reporting the corruptive Ukrainian government, and has no idea what life has in stock for her. After suffering a violent attack, which targeted her mother due to her political activism engagements, young Olga seeks asylum in Switzerland, where she can improve her gymnastics talent while attempting to represent her country in the European Championships. Separated from her mother, missing her friends and enduring the consequences of cultural clash, Olga has something even more unbearable to go through: watching from a distance the oppression and violence taking control of her country, and the people she loves. Known as the Maiden Revolution, the 2013 uprising in Kyiv has caused many deaths, traumas and has left many missing. That revolution was just the initial steps of Ukraine’s response to intolerance and negligence, which brings us to the current events devastating the country.

While at the comfort of her Swiss residence, Olga longs to return home and join her people in the fight against the system, especially when she realizes her mother is under such risks. The riot and the police reaction start to affect Olga’s personality and athletic performance, creating an obstacle between her, the coach and the other female athletes training alongside her.

Mixing real footage to the highly convincing and observational tale of an athlete coming of age during disturbingly irreversible times, director Elie Grappe conceives a deeply moving, thrilling and contemplative antiwar drama that efficiently resonates to current facts: it hurts to see those routine images of people going on with their lives, and realizing that now, months after the Russian invasion, that city, like most of Ukraine, has been destroyed by the increasing conflict.

Winner of the SACD Prize in Cannes, and officially submitted for the Oscars, Grappe extracts a powerhouse performance from newcomer Anastasia Budyashkina (who is a former athlete), as the protagonist. She is the emotional fuel of the narrative, anchoring every frame with a blend of sorrowful emotions and reactions, perfectly embodying trauma, rage, longing and confusion, and immediately capturing the viewer’s affection. A must-see!

(Kino Lorber. 6/24. Quad Cinema.)

COCOON

Using the metaphor of a cocoon as a protective shield for a transformational process, German writer-director Leonie Krippendorff’s sensitive and very exciting LGBTQ coming of age drama follows such a process over a quite shy teen girl who is exploring the world and struggling to find her place in it. She is guided by her older sister, who introduces her to the pleasures (and risks) of youth while enjoying a scalding summer on the streets of Berlin. The director is fully engaged to her material and conducts the narrative with incredible control: little by little, the trajectory of 14-year-old Nora (an enigmatic and courageous performance by Lena Urzendowsky) into womanhood becomes vividly displayed and explored with both urgency and admiration for Ana’s intentions and emotions. At first she resists to most of the seductive reckless circumstances she’s been offered, but gradually she goes with the flow, revealing other aspects of her nature. Her estranged relationship with her mother, who is an alcoholic, becomes harder, leading her older sister to seek for solutions to preserve their family harmony. She also becomes utterly interested in another girl, Romy, discovering and accepting her homosexual condition: like what happens to the insect as it mutates into a butterfly, Nora is also setting herself free from the cocoon, lifting wings and reaching for higher desires. Vibrantly shot and fueled by a pop-dancing soundtrack, this is a beautiful, meditative and honest portrait of Millennials in search of identity and romance.

(Film Movement. In Virtual Cinemas and On Demand. Go to www.FilmMovement.com for details.)

TAHARA

A kiss can cause a revolution. Especially if you are a teen not so sure of what you really want. For a girl who had only kissed one boy before (which she didn’t have a good experience), a kiss would mean the world- the first and essential step into self-liberation and self-discovery. As she attends a classmate’s funeral (a suicidal Jewish girl), Carrie will experience a diversity of confused emotions, excitement, pleasure, hope and contempt, sparkled by her untamed friend, Hannah, who indulges her for a kiss in order to prove she’s ready for it. At that moment, something magical, truthful and concrete happens to Carrie, her hormones and desires, her education and morality, all dancing a ballad of first love together, exploding as one into her. On the other hand, for Hannah is just a matter of practicing her skills, a fun and sexy game that will trigger her sexual appetite, as she is more interested in Tristan, a boy who attends the same school, and agrees on flirting and maybe getting into hotter stuff inside the Synagogue. Delivering inspiring and career-defining performances, Madeline Grey DeFreece as Carrie and rising star Rachel Sennott as the eccentric libidinous initiator exceed in chemistry, balance and charisma. There is a genuine sarcasm and prompt humor all over the narrative as the pair go on observing other people’s lives and behavior, as if they were judges of their own repressed generation. DeFreece demonstrates total control of her character, marking her emotions through the tone of her voice and her deeply penetrating eyes; as for Sennott, who already left an impressive mark with her breakthrough role in last year’s “Shiva Baby” (for which she’s gotten some Oscar buzz), she delights and horrifies at the same time embodying a sort of villain who deserves our pity and affection. She is smartly building a fine career with her rawness and commitment, and will be seen next in the acclaimed horror thriller “Bodies, Bodies, Bodies”, which will be released late this Summer and will for sure introduce her to the mainstream. Mark my words: it won’t be long until this girl gets to the top of the industry, as one of this century’s most accomplished actresses. Winner of the Directorial Feature Debut Award at NewFest NY, director Olivia Peace conceives a remarkable work, a lovely, tender and savage look at this generation’s yearnings and aspirations, one of this year’s best films.

(Film Movement. 6/25. New Plaza Cinema and On Demand.)


Social Press . 24/06/2022

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