1973, a mere five years after the Soviet Invasion, Czechoslovakia was ruled by
the hardest hardline Communists. They were grim days for the mental health
profession and hardly an era of tolerance in general. Plus, the death penalty
was still very much in force. It was the worst possible time and place for
young woman like Olga Hepnarová, the last woman executed in the Communist nation.
Yet, in many ways she was created by the very system that tormented her. The
infamous mass murderer’s story is vividly dramatized in Petr Kazda & Tomás
Weinreb’s I, Olga Hepnarová (trailer here), which screens
during the AFI’s 2016 EU Film Showcase.
sexual orientation was one of the unspoken issues that drove a wedge between
her and her family and co-workers. In current parlance, we might also conclude
she was to some degree “on the spectrum.” Regardless, we see in psychologically
brutal detail how the bullying Hepnarová constantly faced short-circuited the
development of her personality. As a result, she makes every painful social interaction
even worse. She is not blameless for the dismal state of her life, but her
family, particularly her domineering mother bear more responsibility than
remarkably, Hepnarová has the wherewithal to come out of the closet and pursue
a romantic relationship with the attractive Annie Hall-ish Jitka, but it is
inevitably undermined by circumstances and her own self-sabotage. Yet, that is
not the immediate catalyst for her deadly vehicular assault, which prefigured
this year’s Nice “terror truck” incident. Instead, it is just more drips in the
prolonged water torture-like pressure that ultimately breaks her.
Michalina Olszaanska (who was a marvel in The Lure) could probably be a waifish fashion model in real life, but she
boldly transforms herself into the awkwardly boyish Hepnarová. Her twitchy,
halting body language makes her look as uncomfortable in her own skin as she is
with her oppressive environment. It is a tour de force performance that
dominates and defines the film.
Kazda & Weinreb invite us to sympathize with a mass murderer who killed eight
and wounded another twelve, to an extent—and we do, to an extent. Truly, the
term “bullying” is not sufficient to describe the sort of pervasive hostility
she endured. Yet, everyone is mired in a morass of utter and abject
black-and-white cinematography of Adam Sikora (whose credits include Majewski’s
incomparable The Mill & the Cross)
emphasizes that unyielding drabness rather than scoring noir style points.
Frankly, it is enormously impressive how Kazda & Weinreb maintain such stifling
claustrophobia and a sense of steadily mounting tragedy. As accomplished as it
is, it is hard to imagine anyone buying it on DVD. This is a film people ought
to see, but once will be plenty. Recommended for those who can appreciate its
uncompromising aesthetic, I, Olga Hepnarová
screens this Monday (12/12) and Wednesday (12/14) , as part of the AFI’s annual
EU Film Showcase.
Labels: AFI EU Showcase '16, Czech Cinema, Olga Hepnarova