One of the biggest problems some films experience in this day and age is they’re increasingly incorrectly marketed. Take a film like OLYMPIA for example. If you read any online synopsis of the film – especially the ones provided by either the production company or its marketing team – then you’re liable to be given one impression of the film. “Young girl.” “A real hottie.” “Wants to be a porn star.” “Wants to be a celebrity.” “Nudity.” “Exploitation.” “Rock music.” You can throw in any number of other related words, and you catch my drift. You – as a potential viewer – are given the impression that you’re about to see something that’s going to involve a lovely young lady running around in her skivvies (or less) who can’t wait to do the nasty on camera for her and her male suitors delight.
But the truth especially in the case of OLYMPIA is far from the reality, and I can’t help but wonder how many folks came into this one expecting something vastly different than what was delivered.
(NOTE: The following review will contain minor spoilers necessary solely for the discussion of plot and characters. If you’re the kind of person who prefers a review entirely spoiler-free, then I’d encourage you to skip down to the last three paragraphs for my final assessment. If, however, you’re accepting of a few modest hints at ‘things to come,’ then read on …)
Here’s the skinny from the product packaging: “After a string of amateur videos, Olympia, now 18 years old, enters the colorful world of sex, rock and fashion for her major porn debut in this hypersaturated pop treatment of the superficial glitz and glamour of the Argentinian adult film universe.”
So let’s clear this up right away: despite the promise of the premise, boys and girls, there’s very little nudity (other than incidental) in OLYMPIA. That’s because if you think that’s what this picture is about then you’re sadly mistaken. This is about the industry. It’s about a lifestyle. It’s about a generation who live (and die) by Twitter, Facebook, and the pursuit of celebrity. It’s about plastic people running from one failed coupling to the next – all at the speed of light – chasing after a dream that, ultimately, won’t make them a better person but maybe – just maybe – might give her (or him) a fleeting, momentary satisfaction.
Despite looking pretty, much of it ain’t pretty at all!
As a director, employing such obvious camera trickery to tell a story is a huge gamble. As a calculated risk, you play the odds that employing split-screens and floating taglines and other forms of virtual Greek chorus won’t distract your audience from the story … unless that’s your intent. Could it be that your story isn’t the point of the film? Is it that your message – your specific visual interpretation – of the story is what you want viewers to remember instead of the characters’ various plights? Such techniques end up largely feeling like Cliff Notes pointing you in the direction the storyteller wants instead of organically taking to that destination by way of the tale being spun, and, despite how hard it tries, I thought director Leo Damario’s intrusion into the tale pulled me away from Olympia’s journey all too often. Half of the time, it worked – the chicanery underscored the falsehoods, tearing back the curtain of glamour surrounding the adult entertainment industry – but, when it didn’t, I felt like I was watching some film scholar’s senior thesis about how to get as many images into an 80 minute picture as humanly possible.
But – and this is very important – Damario’s talent with the camera throughout much of OLYMPIA was the way he captured so much of it as such a ‘commoners’ sideshow. I’ve no doubt that the adult entertainment industry is just that – a sideshow – and this story works best when it’s focused (or just slightly out-of-focus) on the nuances of our lead actress’s existence. (i.e. Olympia dances at a rave; Olympia’s chatting on her cellphone; Olympia’s getting a check-up, etc.) Damario proves – in a none-too-subtle way – who the true ‘voyeurs’ are (hint: it’s all of us) and who are only out to make money on it. It almost feels like I was watching a story culled together from a bunch of macabre home videos instead of a typical motion picture story.
Also, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Damario and scribe Karina Noriega’s script is, at times, scathingly funny (again, in a non-obtrusive way) as it goes about exploiting (my word, probably not theirs) the stunningly mundane way even celebrities live their lives – sitting on a couch waiting for meetings, accidentally eavesdropping on the banal conversations of others. Some moments are blithely profound while others are packed to the hilt with delightful quirkiness. Had the quality of the entire film matched the wit of the script, OLYMPIA probably would’ve tapped into a wider audience. As it is, it feels too much like an inside joke that you think you understand when the reality of it all possibly escape you.
OLYMPIA (2011) is produced by OKAF Films, Digital Media Rights, and Asian Crush. DVD distribution is being handled through MVD Visual. For those needing it spelled out perfectly, this is a Spanish spoken language film with English subtitles … and, truth be told, the subtitling job isn’t all that great (they’re frequently slightly out-of-focus). As for the technical specifications, meh. It could’ve been better. It’s hard to say in some respects because director Damario captures several sequences so tightly and/or slightly off-center or even out-of-focus that methinks the narrative devices got the best of the entire team. As is often the case with smaller foreign releases, there are no special features to speak of … and I, for one, would’ve liked at least an interview with Damario to clarify the picture’s overall tone.
RECOMMENDED. The sad truth of why a film like OLYMPIA may never find an audience is the fact that (A) it’s artsy and (B) it kinda secretly (and satirically) indicts everything about ‘the artsy.’ Stars don’t take well to being made fun of; nor do those who traffic in their footsteps. As a consequence, folks who can appreciate the sarcasm and “get the joke” are, instead, renting TRANSFORMERS 4 because there’s nothing else in at the video store. Take a chance on OLYMPIA, and you might be surprised … that is IF you can get past its ‘artsy’ constructs.
In the interests of fairness, I’m pleased to disclose that the fine folks at MVD Visual provided me with a DVD copy of OLYMPIA by request for the expressed purposes of completing this review.