Wednesday, 23 April 2014

OLGA, TO MY FRIENDS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - HOT DOCS 2014 - Visually sumptuous contemplations.

Olga - To My Friends (2013) Dir. Paul Anders-Simma ***

Review By Greg Klymkiw

Life in Lapland's Russian district has its own special pace. Oft-ascribed stereotypes like "slow as molasses" might spring to mind when considering its day-in-day-out solitude, but the reality is something else altogether. Paul-Anders Simma's gorgeously photographed Olga - To My Friends captures the beauty of silence through the eyes and words of its title protagonist.

Dumped in an orphanage and raised there for most of her childhood and early adolescence, Olga was eventually removed by her Mother when it became convenient for her to "provide" for the family. For some time, Olga has worked in the northernmost reaches of the continent and the film focuses upon her time working with trappers, hunters and herdsman in an isolated outpost. Her primary duties include keeping the food supplies secure and general upkeep. These duties don't necessarily take an eternity, so it seems Olga has plenty of time on her hands.

This is a good deal for both Olga and the audience. It allows her a lot of time to contemplate the north and her life in it (before and beyond). Furthermore, the film allows us to share in these few glimpses into both her inner life and the world that surrounds it. This is a special opportunity because Olga is very sweet, down-to-earth. Her stocky solid frame puts her in good stead to handle the more arduous tasks and her eyes, so sparkling and alive, betray a soul at peace with the world and herself.

We get a few sad glimpses into her past life (one heartbreaking tale from the orphanage moves us to tears), but she doesn't dwell on unhappiness for too long, nor does she ever display the kind of self-pity someone in her position might. She loves the north, she loves nature and she even seems to love the revolving door of solitary men passing through on their way to somewhere, anywhere - just so long as they're not in one place too long - and we're allowed to love all this too.

Simma's picture is barely an hour long. Its running time feels perfectly appropriate as we never feel like it has overstayed its welcome. If anything, the entire experience is so uplifting and engaging, it seems like maybe we don't get as much time as we'd like.

This is another good thing. The best artists always understand the value of leaving an audience wanting more.

Olga - To My Friends plays Toronto's Hot Docs 2014. For further information, contact the festival website HERE.