OLLA: Trapped With an Intensely Boring Man

In the brief introduction to the MUBI release of her short film, Olla, Ariane Labed treats us to an extract from a marriage agency’s “About” section, a company that matches non-Ukrainian (European) men with Ukrainian women. The extract Labed has picked from the At the Heart of the East’s website is the poem to her film. Though some are unaware of its absurdities, others are set on laughing at them.

“Having a family is a mandatory condition for their achievement as a woman…Ukrainian women favour their femininity…[they are] little concerned with the excesses of western feminism.” These reassuring words – who are they for, what sort of man? Olla is a short, crisp answer to this question, laid out by the titular Eastern European woman who would scare any man who finds even one of the above appealing.

Who is Olla?

Pierre, her proprietor/husband, tells his old, chair-ridden mother, “This is Lola. You know, from the internet.” Lola is not her name; Pierre has told Olla she needs to have a more French-sounding name to fit in. Pierre is that kind of guy: softly spoken and pathetic, is protective of his mother but would prefer his mail-order bride to do the dirty work. During the day, while Pierre is out, Olla cleans her new house and cares for her new mother-in-law. The house Labed has crafted is beautiful on film, but likely dull and old-fashioned in real life.

Olla: Trapped With an Intensely Boring Man
source: MUBI

Olla entered this boring suburbia from a fog in the opening scene – a surreal landscape where the sun gets caught in the mist like a cobweb and a single road stretching out into the distance leads right to a suburbanite’s lime green patio doors. Where has she come from, and why hasn’t Pierre picked up his love from the airport? Olla is clever: you’ll chuckle when you pick up on the light touches of weirdness, especially in the characters’ behaviours. And the visual touches – like Olla’s hair, clothes, and the house’s interior – make a good case for Labed as a skilled and subtle director.

The Lads

One strange and amusing tweak to Olla’s tragic new world is how when a group of young men sitting in a doorway catcall as she struts past: they all holler in unison, at one point, even shouting “filthy slut” all together and it sounds as machine-like as it probably is. Olla doesn’t care. She keeps her head high and smiles to herself.

Whether Olla enjoys sex or not is left only for Pierre to worry about. The first time they are in bed together, a show-stopping giggle bursts from her just as Pierre is getting going. It doesn’t stop him, however, in a later, brutal scene which finally reveals the extent of her hatred for the man she has made the mistake of marrying. Her giggle reflex suggests inexperience, and Pierre holds back at first, but this assumption is wholly misjudged.

Later, Olla masturbates in the kitchen – a spur-of-the-moment thing – while eating a packet of ham. Following a succession of important scenes that nudge her towards liberation, she offers to perform oral sex on one of the lads from the doorway. It ends up being one of the sweetest scenes in the film, and we know then what Pierre’s primary fault is in Olla’s eyes: he’s boring.

Olla: Trapped With an Intensely Boring Man
source: MUBI

Conclusion

Olla forms a tender friendship with Pierre’s mother, but excitement is what she wants, and why not? She’s young and is starting a new life in a foreign country; maybe even wants to find a partner she can really begin to love. Pierre, unsurprisingly, is not the man for the job, and he is punished for his impotence in such an outrageous and hilarious way it can’t help but call to mind the amazing tonal shift in Aki Kaurismäki’s mini-masterpiece The Match Factory Girl.

Olla carries on a important study in film: the migration of resourceful, young, Eastern European women into Western Europe, which includes Paweł Pawlikowski’s Last Resort and Ulrich Seidl’s despairing but extremely beautiful Import/Export. As Ariane Labed edges towards feature filmmaking, Olla will hopefully get a second run, because this story is too short to give us the full study she deserves.

Have you watched Olla? What are your thoughts?

Olla is currently available to stream on MUBI.


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