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I, Olga Hepnarova ("Já, Olga Hepnarová")

North American Premiere
Official Selection: Berlin Film Festival 2016
Official Selection: International Film Festival Vilnius 2016

“Fearsomely tough-minded… a still-topical case study of extreme trauma yielded by adolescent bullying and parental neglect” – Guy Lodge, VARIETY

“I am a loner. A destroyed woman. A woman destroyed by people... I have a choice — to kill myself or to kill others. I choose to avenge my haters. It would be too easy to leave this world as an unknown suicide victim. Society is too indifferent, rightly so. My verdict is: I, Olga Hepnarová, the victim of your bestiality, sentence you to death.”

After writing the above words on July 10, 1973, 22-year-old Olga Hepnarová drove a truck into a group of 25 strangers, killing several, setting in motion a tragic conclusion to a lonely young life of alienation and rage. From her earliest years, she was a desperately unhappy girl, miserable in an uncaring family and painfully unable to form bonds with people. She first attempted suicide at the age of 13 and was subsequently sent to a psychiatric hospital, where she was tormented relentlessly. In her teen years, she had a series of female lovers but was unable to connect with any of them. She was regularly mocked and suffered through crippling states of anxiety and depression until she could no longer cope with being alive. In a certain perverse sense, by making such a calculatedly public statement with her killings, designed specifically to force society to think about how the shunned are treated, she could almost be seen as one of the first activists against bullying, albeit in the most destructive sense. On March 12, 1975, Olga Hepnarová made history once more when she became the last woman to be executed in Czechoslovakia, despite indications that she was mentally ill. Her story will haunt you to your core.

A bracingly powerful film, shot in monochromatic black & white and constructed without a music score, I, OLGA HEPNAROVA is anchored with a devastating lead performance by Michalina Olszanska, a major rising star in Eastern Europe, who also fronts this year’s incredible THE LURE. It’s a staggering accomplishment for debut feature filmmakers Petr Kazda and Tomas Weinreb, who also co-scripted following years of research — a large portion of the film’s voice-over is recited directly from Hepnarová’s actual letters and notes. In many ways, this film’s very existence is a miracle. Until recently, Hepnarová was a very taboo subject in the Czech Republic, to such an extant that this film would have been unthinkable just several years ago (even today, it would never have happened were it not a co-production between four countries). Her story’s warning to a heartless world hasn’t lost a shred of pertinence in the 42 years that have passed and despite taking place in Soviet-era Czechoslovakia, its concerns are frighteningly universal. And contemporary.

— Mitch Davis