Review: Olla (2019)

A girl walks onto in an unremarkable French street, suitcase dragging behind her. Voices off-screen, like the world’s most knuckle-dragging and venal choir, call her a filthy slut as she heads towards an ordinary suburban house. The opening to Olla sets out the staid realism flecked with moments of surrealism that typify much of Ariane Labed’s film as she explores female agency and identity.

The titular character (a superb and restrained performance by Romanna Lobach) has arrived to live with Pierre (Grégoire Tachnakian) and his elderly mother. It becomes clear that they have met on a dating site for Eastern European women, with the two not having met in person. Every day, Olla finds herself caring for Pierre’s mother until he returns from work. But their evenings turn into ones of awkwardness and miscommunication as Olla finds herself becoming increasingly unhappy.

From the first moments of the film, in which her bright shock of red hair contrasts with the beige banality of suburbia, the character of Olla is contstantly one step removed from the world she finds herself in. While the relationship between her and Pierre is not based on coercion – while the film does not go into great details, there is a hint that there may have been something genuinely felt in their online exchanges – it is based on people unable to comprehend that Olla is a person who might her have own wishes and desires. Pierre tells here that she should change her name to Lola to ‘fit in’ and there’s never any question that it will be Olla who has to learn his language. She’s paralleled with Pierre’s wheelchair bound mother – one is made immobile by her age, the other by her circumstances. But both are stuck

The moments in which Olla rediscovers her own identity and agency are bold and brassy. She masturbates alone in a kitchen. She enters an empty theatre and revels in the space and silence. She dances around in her underwear. The scenes have an underlying sense of the bizarre, the surreal – which once again place Olla at odds with her surroundings. There is a touch of the world of Yorgos Lanthimos, which is unsurprising given that Labed – in her guise as an actor – is a frequent collaborator of his.

Olla is a clever and darkly funny work that marks Labed as a director to watch. With the film already having a great festival run – premiering in Cannes Directors’ Fortnight and winning the National Award at this year’s edition of the Clermont-Ferrand International Short Film Festival – it will be fascinating to see what her next project will be.

Country:  France, UK
Language: French
Runtime: 28′
Written/ Directed by: Ariane Labed
Produced by: Lucie Borleteau, Marine Arrighi de Casanova
Cinematography by: Balthazar Lab
Editing by: Yorgos Mavropsaridis
Music: Coti-K
Cast: Romanna Lobach, Grégoire Tachnakian, Jenny Bellay, Gall Gaspard
Production company: Envie de Tempête Productions