Dir Jayme Monjardim.2004. Brazil. 144mins
An adaptation of areal-life story set between Germany's concentration camps, Moscow, and aturbulent Rio de Janeiro, Olga was Brazil's box office champ of 2004 (atleast 3m admissions) and the country's official entry in the Oscar stakes.
But despite a clutch ofsales to smaller territories, though, its telenovella-ish tendencies make itunlikely to break through to bigger markets- it's simply too soapy for the art house crowd, and far removed fromthe gritty realism of recent Brazilian giants City Of God (which wasbacked by the same producers) and Central Station.
The titular Olga is OlgaBenario Prestes (Morgado), a communist activist in pre-war Germany who flees toMoscow, undergoes military training, and is sent to escort Luis Carlos Prestes(Ciocler) back to Brazil in 1935 to organise his failed revolution. They fallin love, she becomes pregnant and is deported back to Germany where she facescertain death at the hands of the Nazis as a German Jew.
An unusual, but true, story:however, via a script by producer Buzzard filtered through former telenovelladirector Monjardim, it's milked so enthusiastically for every tear-filledclose-up, the end result feels oddly surreal. Monjardim underscores eachheart-rending moment (and there are many across 144 minutes) with insistentstrings, dramatic lighting and those close-ups: all that's missing is athunderclap.
The end result, coupled withthe distressing nature of the subject at hand, is draining and exhausting. Thestory here is a strong one: a steadier hand could have made more of it bydialling the pathos down, not up.
Technical credits aresurprisingly spot-on, given that the freezing concentration camp sequences wereactually filmed at the height of Brazilian summer on a Rio soundstage andoverall the colour-drained picture looks good.
As Olga, Morgado (she workedfor Monjardim as a TV actress) appears in almost every scene and manages tolend some dignity to various overwrought sequences, although is less successfulin others.
Ciocler's Prestes, strangelyenough, is written - and played - as a weak-chinned mummy's boy (his mother isportrayed by Central Station's Fernanda Montenegro) who spends his sparetime sewing a frock for his wife and defers to her on military decisions.
Despite Monjardim's soapytendencies, however, it's impossible not to be moved by Olga's plight as thefilm moves towards its deadly climax in the Ravensbruck concentration camp.Certainly, she was a unique woman and her story deserves further, moremeasured, consideration - perhaps in documentary format.
Prod cos: Nexus Cinema E Video, Globo Filmes, Lumiere
Int'l sales: Lumiere Brasil
Exec prod: Guilherme Bokel
Prod: Rita Buzzar
Scr: Rita Buzzar, based on thenovel by Fernando Morais
Cine: Ricardo Della Rosa
Prod des: Tiza De Oliveira
Ed: Pedro Amorim
Music: Marcys Vianna
Main cast: Camila Morgado, CacoCiocler, Fernanda Montenegro