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From the moment we first catch a glimpse of Olga Hepnarová (Michalina Olszanska), we can see the pain of her psychological isolation. She’s someone subjugated by her own lack of self-confidence; spurned by those surrounding her, whilst spontaneously shunning any who attempt to speak to her. A failed attempt to take her own life early on typifies her personal tragedy, “suicide requires a strong-will” says her mother (Klára Melísková), something Olga seems to lack.

Olga’s withdrawal, however, is a bitter by-product of life lived in Czechoslovakia under totalitarian rule. She has been forced to suppress her strength in the past, but can no longer restrain herself. While her peers and parents have subserviently adjusted their lives to incorporate the Soviet’s societal dominance, Olga instead wishes to assert her own liberty.

The script, written by Czech debut directors Tomas Weinreb and Petr Kazda, has been adapted from the true tale of 22-year-old Olga Hepnarová, who, in 1975, became the last person to be publically executed in Czechoslovakia, having been found guilty of killing 8 pedestrians after mounting the kerb in a rented truck whilst driving round the streets of Prague. Using letters Olga sent to two newspapers before the murders, in which she called her actions an act of revenge for society’s targeted hatred of her, Weinreb and Kazda solemnly study the events that caused Hepnarová to commit this sensational crime, and ruminate on the psychosomatic problems that pushed her towards the edge.ja-olga-hepnarova-still-01There’s a timely telling of how adolescent bullying is indicative of broken youth to be unearthed from within the unforgiving bleakness – parallels with Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy’s The Tribe are perceptible. Yet the freshmen filmmakers seem more concerned with augmenting an anesthetising atmosphere of emotive austerity. Their mood is bleak, the muted monochrome canvas and DP Adam Sikora’s detached cinematography constructing an oppressive air of despondency. And the direction so disengaged with the drama that we find ourselves fitfully fluttering from scene to scene without ever being given the opportunity to focus.

Tasked with appearing in almost every frame, rising Polish star Michalina Olszanska forges a formidably passive central character. The only hints of expression we are privy to come during rare moments of ecstasy when she makes love to a girlfriend –heated eruptions of intimate freedom that betray the cold-blooded exterior. Her inscrutable presence is stirring, but stifled by dour direction that only serves to mirror Hepnarová’s cognitive disposition; it’s numbing, unbalanced, and emotionally barren.

★★

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