The Czech film ‘I, Olga Hepnarova’, tells the true story of an alienated young woman who shocked Prague in the 1970s
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July 10, 1973 was a black day in the history of modern Prague. A 22-year-old girl named Olga Hepnarova hired a truck and deliberately and coldly veered off the road, climbed onto the pavement, and cold-bloodedly murdered eight people waiting at a public transport station. More than twenty other people – most of them over the age of 60 – suffered from various injuries. When the Hepnarova stopped her car and was taken for questioning by the police, she insisted on explaining to the stunned interrogators that it was not an accident or a technical malfunction but a well-planned revenge. According to her, her goal was to force the Czech society that abused her all her life to look her eyes at her rejected sons and daughters suffering from physical or mental abuse.
Shortly before the murder, Hepnarova wrote and sent a letter to two Czech newspapers, which arrived a few days after her arrest. And so she wrote: “I’m a lonely man. A woman is devastated. A woman that people abused and destroyed. I have a choice: to kill myself or kill others. I choose to avenge those who abused me. It would be too easy to leave this world as an anonymous suicide victim. The company is too indifferent, and rightly so. My verdict: I, Olga Hepnarova, the victim of your animalism, will be sentenced to death. ”
The story of the Hepnarova, who lived in her last years in a hut isolated in the forest and had short sexual relations with women, was described extensively in a Czech book in 2001 and served as the basis for a black-and-white feature film called “I, Olga Hepnarova.” The two-hour film, a collaboration between the Czech directors Tomas Weinreb and Peter Kazade, was screened last year at the Berlin Film Festival and took place last weekend in theaters in the United States (the film also won several screenings at the Haifa Festival, but was not commercially distributed in Israel). The two have cast the rising Polish actress Michaelina Olshanska into the lead role, who finds it difficult to hold the plotless film on her bare shoulders.
According to Weinreb and Kazada, they sought to avoid sensationalism, and therefore chose a slow and thoughtful style that included a lot of use of close-ups. But the result is puzzling and fails to provide answers to the troubling questions that arise from the Hepnarova story: Could the young woman born in June 1951 be treated and abused by a father who abused her and beat her to the point of blood and an emotionally detached mother? Has she suffered from schizophrenia or temporary insanity? What caused her to murder in cold blood and then ask the judges for a death sentence? And did she regret her actions during the year she lived in solitary confinement in prison and waited for her execution?
As stated, the film leaves most of these questions open. Instead of recounting the extreme life story of Hepnarova, who tried to commit suicide and was hospitalized for a year in a psychiatric institution, the directors decided to provide a glimpse into the moments of the last two years that led to the murder: the transition from her parents’ home to an isolated hut in the forest where she met her lovers, alienated sex scenes, And work as a driver at a factory where almost all of its employees are men. The scenes are full of embarrassing silences and long scenes that cause discomfort, and viewers are required to work hard to try to decipher the haunted girl the film is focusing on. What are the demons who persecuted her? Has the psychiatric establishment been negligent or turned its back? How did she turn from a suicidal girl into a mass murderer? It is hard to answer when most of the film presents her as an eccentric loner who communicates with the outside world only through lesbian sex
Olshanska, who embodies the heroine, is a talented and beautiful actress, but she is required here to play a one-expressive game that has trouble arousing empathy. This cinematic missus is especially distressing because it seems that Hepnarova was a very intelligent and articulate young woman who best described her pain. In the letters she left behind, and in her few appearances in court, she repeatedly explained that the mass murder was actually a premeditated suicide: she wanted to end her life, but sought to avenge anyone who had been abused. In one of the strongest scenes in the film, she declares that “it was my only way to make sure my case was not forgotten. If I had committed suicide, you would have forgotten me tomorrow. ”
Hepnarova was executed on March 12, 1975, and became the last woman to be executed in Czechoslovakia. According to Weinreb and Kazadeh, they wanted to bring her story back to the public consciousness to stimulate discussion of the need to assist victims of abuse and to identify victims of violence at an early stage. These are pure intentions, but their depressing film finds it difficult to realize them. Instead of a real possibility of understanding what a healthy young woman has done to murder eight innocent people (whose names or families are not mentioned for a moment), they seem to have fallen in love with the idea of shooting a supposedly black-and-white film. Families of victims – and viewers – deserve more