There is much to be appreciated during small moments in Olympic Dreams. The charming awkwardness of athlete-turned-actress Alexi Pappas, the physical aspects of Nick Kroll’s portrayal of a sense of non-belonging and the ever-going multitude of stories colliding under the haze of this once-in-a-lifetime experience. It all becomes particularly spectacular when one learns that this was the first-ever narrative film to be shot at an Olympic Athlete Village during the actual 2018 Winter Games.
Entirely improvised, Olympic Dreams has a strong documental appeal. Its personal atmosphere allows the viewer to witness the day-to-day of the village, an utterly foreign concept otherwise. This attribute only contributes to the informal, very personal narrative being built on-screen, and organically strengthens the connection between the audience and the characters. It is easy to connect with Ezra’s (Kroll) overwhelming disbelief as he wanders around this alternative, surreal world.
With only bullet points to guide them through their scenes, Kroll and Pappas build charming – albeit not fully developed – characters. Pappas, an Olympian herself, allows Penelope to struggle through the range of emotions an athlete feels during the materialization of their highest goal. Years and years of training and countless sacrifices leading up to this one fleeting moment that goes by without allowing any decent time for processing. Ezra, on the other hand, simply dives into the eye of the hurricane without thinking of an exit route. A dentist, he arrives at the village to escape his reality, just to see it knock on his door.
Only allowed a three-person crew, including the film’s two main actors, director Jeremy Teicher had to get creative. With only one camera, he closely follows his two leads as they stumble upon each other again and again, forming an unconventional love bond that never truly manages to overshadow this one of a kind setting. And it is not meant to do so.
In order to fully enjoy Olympic Dreams, one needs to see it as an experiment. To navigate such a complex environment with a whole array of limitations and bureaucratic barriers is a complicated task, and Teicher manages to deliver a sweet tale of dreams and expectations. There is not much more than we can ask.
If you got the chance to shoot a film at an Olympic Athlete Village, what topic would you choose to explore?
Olympic Dreams reached US cinemas on February 14th and had its UK premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival 2020.
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