I love contemporary black and white films. It’s the beauty of the tone and the other-worldliness it creates. I, Olga Hepnarova is a quiet, thoughtful film. Based on history, Olga was the last woman executed in Czechoslovakia, at the age of 22, for deliberately driving a truck along a crowded footpath. This portrayal attempts to create some context to her life and glean the psychology behind this act.
We first see Olga in her late teens, unhappy at home, attempting suicide, then in what could be an asylum. She is quiet and is the brunt of bullying, it is never clear why. She is then working driving trucks, living alone in a hut, seemingly socially inept. She has friends, lovers, knows that something is not quite right but can’t seem to find a lifeline.
I found it disconcerting that we are given no context really to the changes in Olga’s life. A conventional film would have shown the transitions, made the facts of her life clear, but this film keeps us sometimes claustrophobically close to Olga’s world, not allowing us any objectivity. It is only toward the end of the film that the purpose and power of this becomes clear.
The black and white is beautiful – not in an Ansel Adams way, more akin to Elliot Erwitt or Diane Arbus. Olga’s white shirt, dark eyes, Louise Brooks bob, the light through the continuous fug of cigarette smoke still linger in my mind. The ending is powerful; regardless of what might be true about the real Olga, it gives me insight into her anger and powerlessness.
Bechdel test – pass