The Perils of Perfectionism


When we think about sports, we usually tend to consider the game in question and the competition involved. Yet rarely do we think about the participants engaged in such contests – the individuals who are taking part and what drives them to compete. Considering the dynamics of these scenarios, there are often powerful motivations at work, mindsets reflective of the drives, aims and goals of the competitors, and they play a role just as vital as the athletic skills involved. But which beliefs serve them best – or, alternatively, worst? Those are among the questions addressed in a profile of an iconic tennis legend, the new sports documentary, “McEnroe” (web site, trailer).

Despite not being able to recall a time when he didn’t play tennis, John McEnroe says he never had much interest in participating in the sport when he was young, strange as that may sound. He lived only a block away from a tennis club in his childhood neighborhood of the Douglaston section of Queens, New York, so he could conceivably hit the courts just about any time he wanted. However, it wasn’t until something significant happened when that changed. In the early to mid 1970s, tennis became the fastest growing sport in America, and its leading players, like Jimmy Connors and Björn Borg, were looked on in the same light as rock stars. McEnroe became intrigued by that and wanted to be a part of it. And, given his penchant for wanting to be the best at whatever he did, he threw himself into the game, seeking to become a superstar in his own right.

As fate would have it, McEnroe’s ambition was fulfilled and rather quickly at that. By the late ʼ70s and early ʼ80s, he had risen to the top of the sport, competing in the same ranks as Connors, Borg and his good friend Vitas Gerulaitis, quickly capturing titles at such tournaments as the U.S. Open and Wimbledon. He, too, managed to secure rock star status for himself. Quite fittingly, he even learned to play the guitar and soon found himself in the company of a group of high-profile music industry friends at elite venues like Studio 54, including Keith Richards, Chrissie Hynde, Meat Loaf, Tina Turner, Carlos Santana and David Bowie. It was quite a ride.

Over the course of his 15-year professional career, which continued until 1992, he captured 155 singles and doubles titles, making him history’s most successful male tennis player in the game’s modern era. Yet, for all his achievements, McEnroe says he felt unfulfilled, that his accomplishments didn’t measure up to his expectations or seem like such a big deal. Considering that viewpoint, outsiders might readily ask themselves, “What’s wrong with this picture?” And, ironically enough, McEnroe did the same with himself.

This is the central question that writer-director Barney Douglas’s documentary seeks to answer. How could someone so accomplished feel so inherently unsatisfied? While the film chronicles McEnroe’s attainments on the court with ample competition footage, it places much of its emphasis on the foregoing conundrum, delving deeply into his character and how it impacted his professional and personal life.

As noted above, from childhood onward, McEnroe was obsessed with being the best at whatever he attempted. It so pervaded his personality, in fact, that one could say he was the epitome of perfectionism, a trait that verged on becoming toxic, especially where tennis was concerned. This quality, combined with the incessant success-driven prodding of his father, John Sr., turned the junior McEnroe into an almost-robotic presence in the tennis world. He was truly a force to be reckoned with on the courts. Unfortunately, the same was true off the courts as well.

In hindsight, McEnroe now recognizes the perils, pitfalls and drawbacks of having lived his life that way. Approaching his existence from the standpoint of “all tennis, all the time” took its toll, leading to an undercurrent of unrecognized, unaddressed frustration. He developed a reputation for being the sport’s argumentative bad boy, frequently calling out umpires and referees when he disagreed with calls that went against him on the court. He also became isolated from those supposedly closest to him, such as his first wife, actress Tatum O’Neal, with whom he began experiencing marital difficulties. The same was somewhat true of his relationship with his father, who had become his manager; their interaction with one another revolved almost entirely around tennis, keeping them from developing a more typical – and, one might say, healthier – father-son relationship. McEnroe also became a regular user of recreational substances, which he claimed didn’t affect his performance on the court, but could he say the same for other aspects of his life?

McEnroe says he probably hit bottom in 1994, two years after he retired, when his friend Vitas Gerulaitis died as a result of an accidental carbon monoxide poisoning incident. The event was something of a wake-up call, one that prompted him to look inward and profoundly examine his life and character. He began asking himself the questions that he had long put off. He looked at areas of his life that he had previously largely ignored. And he sought help, both professionally and personally, particularly through his relationship with the woman who would become his second wife, musician Patty Smyth. He turned corners that he hadn’t broached before, becoming a person far different from the one that the public knew best.

Today the tennis great introspectively looks back on his life with new insights about himself. He realizes there are many things he could have and should have done differently. But he also understands that there’s nothing he can do about them, that he can’t change his past, and that he must accept them for what they are and move on. The future is a blank slate with which he can do whatever he wants. And, as someone who wants to be the best he can be, that prospect provides him with opportunities to apply such thinking in areas that he may have missed out on earlier in his life – but that he has a chance to make up for going forward. It’s something he eagerly anticipates, perhaps even more than what winning yet another championship might do.

Beliefs are tremendously powerful tools, intangible resources that can be put to virtually any use. On the one hand, they can lead us to the fulfillment of tremendous goals, particularly those that relate to the attainment of our personal potential. On the other hand, however, they can be the seeds of destructive behavior, especially when they become obsessive. In those instances, they can quickly turn into undermining influences that lead us astray, taking us down paths we’d be better off avoiding. In either case, though, it’s crucial that we recognize their presence, their impact and the role that they play in how events unfold in our lives. Such is how they function, and, if left unchecked, with phenomenal persistence.

Whether or not John McEnroe recognized the role that beliefs played in how his life progressed, it’s nevertheless quite apparent from this film that they have long occupied an important place in his life. He even seems to have had some sense of the particular beliefs he held and an awareness of what they yielded, especially with the passage of time. Indeed, with age has come wisdom (as it often does for most of us). As he looks back on his life, however, even if he had been able to recognize some kind of a connection between his beliefs and the outcomes he experienced, he nevertheless found himself stuck in a loop from which he had trouble escaping.

In particular, McEnroe wrestled with this notion when it came to beliefs related to perfectionism. He was so singularly focused on being the best that he couldn’t envision outcomes that failed to live up to that expectation. Now there’s certainly nothing wrong with wanting to succeed, but a desire to do so at any cost can put us on a fast track to obsession, a state of mind that often spawns all manner of side effects, many of them unpleasant or even unhealthy. And, as McEnroe looks back on his life, he can now see what happened and how such thinking became a trap.

Fortunately, he’s come to understand how he became who he was at that point in his life. And he’s accepted the fact that there’s nothing he can do to change it. But he also now knows that such a mindset need no longer keep him ensnared. He has the power to choose to be different, specifically when it comes to deciding on which beliefs he wants to embrace. That realization can be incredibly liberating, not only in terms of becoming unstuck, but also in giving ourselves permission to open up to possibilities we may have never experienced or even envisioned. There’s a wide world out there to be explored, and this approach provides a gateway for us to step through to examine and enjoy them.

It’s somewhat unusual for a sports documentary to take viewers down a path like this, but that’s one of the tremendously surprising and valuable attributes of this film. Writer-director Barney Douglas’s new release poignantly examines the intense soul-searching that McEnroe engaged in, prompting him to examine the entire spectrum of his life, not just his performance on the tennis court. Through frank monologues by the tennis great and incisive commentary by myriad family members, wife Patty Smyth, peers Billie Jean King and Björn Borg, and friends Keith Richard and Chrissie Hynde, this engaging profile presents an insightful, in-depth portrait of one of the most captivating and controversial sports figures of the 20th Century. Admittedly, some aspects of the storytelling are presented in somewhat awkward, occasionally overly pretentious ways, but, fortunately, these elements don’t unduly impinge on the overall narrative, and this shortcoming is compensated for by the picture’s ample archival footage and its telling interviews. The result is a production that goes far beyond what many offerings in this genre achieve, let alone attempt. The result: Advantage viewers. The film is currently available for viewing on the Showtime cable network and the Showtime Anytime streaming service.

Wanting things to turn out perfectly is only natural and completely acceptable, but, when we become so preoccupied with the idea that we lose perspective, we’re headed down a slippery slope. But are we able to recognize such a scenario when it begins to develop? Given what’s potentially at stake, we’d be wise to hone our discernment skills to stave off problems before they arise. Failing to do so could lead to anguish and, ultimately, regrets if the problem is allowed to persist. That can result in lost opportunities, wasted time and effort, and even prolonged sorrow. Do we really want to go down that road? Even those of us who seem to have it all together can fall prey to such circumstances as long as the beliefs that enable them are allowed to stay in place. Assessing our thoughts, beliefs and intents can help to avoid problems like these, provided we take the steps and make the effort to keep them from emerging, a practice that assuredly represents time well spent, an outcome we don’t have to wait a lifetime to experience.

A complete review is available by clicking here. 

New Movies and a Summer Vacation Recap

Join Good Media Network Movie Correspondent Brent Marchant and show host Frankie Picasso for five new movie reviews on the next edition of Frankiesense & More! The show, to begin airing on Thursday September 29 at 1 pm ET, will also feature a recap of “How We Spent Our Summer Vacation,” a quick look at new releases we watched while we had our feet up on the beach sipping margaritas. Tune in on Facebook or YouTube for all the fun and lively discussion!

Wrestling with Questions of Integrity

Nobody wants to look bad. So we frequently go to great lengths when it comes to making a good impression, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But what happens when we start crossing lines that, in an attempt to preserve our image, begin negatively affecting others? How can we legitimately justify such actions, despite whatever intent might be behind them? Those are the questions raised in the new satirical Spanish dark comedy, “The Good Boss” (“El buen patrón”) (web site, trailer).

For Julio Blanco (Javier Bardem), image is everything. As the owner of Basculas Blanco, a Spanish manufacturer of precision industrial scales that has been in his family for years, he oversees an operation that he views as one big happy family. He’s the proud “parent” of a staff of “children” whose welfare he cares about deeply (or at least so he says, particularly if he can milk good publicity mileage out of such claims and resulting impressions).

In looking after the well-being of his employees, Blanco gets involved – really involved – in their affairs, be they personal or work-related. But what some might view as concern others are likely to see as meddling – and intrusively so. He tries to come across as profoundly well meaning when, in fact, much of what he does is aimed at trying to preserve the image he has so carefully crafted for the company, an appearance that he hopes will translate into good PR for the business.

Julio Blanco (Javier Bardem, left), owner of Basculas Blanco, a Spanish manufacturer of precision industrial scales, walks the factory with Rubio (Rafa Castejón, right), his trusty aide, in the new business world satire, “The Good Boss” (“El buen patrón”). Photo courtesy of Cohen Media Group.

That’s especially important to him now that Basculas Blanco has been named one of three finalists in the running for a prestigious regional business award. As a company that has won many such honors over the years, Blanco wants to do everything he can to capture this latest prize. And, to help ensure that, he’s fixated on creating the proper public impression for the operation, one that he believes is essential to winning over the judges. So, in addition to giving his usual highly visible pep talks to the staff and courting favorable media coverage, he also ramps up his efforts to see that his employees’ needs are attended to – and that anything potentially damaging to the firm’s reputation be squelched, regardless of whether those issues are of a public or private nature.

In the run-up to the judges’ evaluation visit to the company’s headquarters, several employee-related matters arise that Blanco tries to tamp down before they grow into full-blown crises. In the week leading up to the judges’ appraisal, Blanco finds himself intervening in the following scenarios:

  • Blanco’s childhood friend and longtime production manager, Miralles (Manolo Solo), has been fouling up repeatedly of late, creating major problems for the assembly and delivery of product to the company’s customers. He promises to get better, but the situation doesn’t improve, so Blanco decides to get involved. When questioning his compadre and colleague, he learns that Miralles has become seriously distracted. He believes that his wife, Aurora (Mara Guil), is having an affair, and this suspicion is affecting his job performance. Blanco thus teams up with Miralles in setting up an undercover spying operation to discover the truth and even goes so far as to visit Aurora at her job to talk to her about her husband’s hunch, a decision that doesn’t go over well with her. It also unearths some additional revelations that further complicate the situation, making Blanco’s involvement even more problematic, both in his attempts to resolve the issue and in the nature of his relationship with his old friend and associate.
  • Meanwhile, Miralles’s work performance issues are having a ripple effect in other parts of the operation, most notably those supervised by one of the floor managers, Khaled (Tarik Rmili), one of Blanco’s immigrant employees. The mistakes are causing growing friction between the two staffers, especially when Miralles imposes himself on Khaled’s efforts at correcting his colleague’s errors. At this point, however, little does Miralles understand just how strained his relations with Tarik are about to become.
  • One of Blanco’s long-tenured employees, Fortuna (Celso Bugalla), has got a problem. His son, Salva (Martín Páez), has become mixed up with an unsavory crowd, placing his safety and well-being in jeopardy. As someone who often does odd jobs and personal favors for Blanco, Fortuna turns to him for help with Salva, asking him if there’s anything he can do to help protect the young man from further harm. To avoid drawing undue attention to the matter (and to his business), Blanco steps in and agrees to help Fortuna, securing a job for Salva as a delivery man at the designer clothing shop run by his own wife, Adela (Sonia Almarcha). She’s not particularly thrilled, given her skepticism about the character of the unexpected new hire (for a position she didn’t even have open), but Blanco smooths over issues with her and gets Salva employed, despite her reservations. How that arrangement turns out remains to be seen.
  • It’s never easy letting go of an employee, but Blanco tries to make the process as painless as possible. Unfortunately, that’s not the case with the dismissal of one of the members of Blanco’s accounting staff, José (Óscar de la Fuente). He’s distraught when he gets the news, because it’s an added burden to his already-strained domestic situation. But, since José is no longer part of the “family,” Blanco feels his former employee is no longer his responsibility. This outlook backfires on the boss, especially when José refuses to go quietly. He sets up a makeshift encampment on a piece of property across the road from the factory, where he relentlessly heckles his former employer with a bullhorn and a colorful assortment of homemade derogatory placards, frequently with his two young children (Nicolás Ruiz, Eva Rubio) in tow. Blanco tries to have authorities remove the protestor, but, since he’s encamped on land not owned by the company, there’s little they can do. Blanco also appeals to his front gate security guard, Román (Fernando Albizu), for assistance, but the buffoonish lout often ends up unwittingly siding with the picketer, often for ridiculous reasons. This is obviously an intolerable situation that won’t go away on its own (and one that Blanco can’t bear for the judges to see), so it soon becomes apparent that more drastic measures are necessary to resolve matters. But will they truly resolve things?
  • In an effort to help new arrivals feel comfortable on the job, Blanco often takes a personal interest in making them feel welcome. That’s especially true with the female interns (particularly those who are young, attractive and eager to make a name for themselves in the company). It’s apparently a long-standing practice with Blanco, one that’s been revived yet again with the arrival of Liliana (Almudena Amor), a new staffer in the marketing department. Blanco’s interest quickly goes beyond just being a good boss. But his personal touch this time carries unforeseen consequences that have serious ramifications, particularly if he wants to avoid making waves that could cost the company its coveted award. Indeed, if one truly wants to be a good boss, it’s best to keep one’s hand out of the cookie jar.

Liliana (Almudena Amor), a new staffer in the marketing department of Basculas Blanco, a Spanish manufacturer of precision industrial scales, is made to feel more than welcome in the organization by the company’s “concerned” owner in writer-director Fernando León de Aranoa’s latest, “The Good Boss” (“El buen patrón”). Photo courtesy of TriPictures.

And, with all that in place, Blanco now has a plate that’s become fuller than he probably ever envisioned. Can he pull everything out of the fire successfully and in time? If so, will he be able to avoid any embarrassing or inconvenient fallout? And will he win the award he so craves? He’ll need to be a really good boss if he hopes that all of that will happen.

Of course, being a really good boss depends greatly on one’s degree of personal integrity, something that’s questionable at best where Blanco is concerned. To his credit, he’s a great actor when it comes to presenting himself as someone who has ample reserves of integrity to draw upon. But his words and deeds don’t always align; he acts on what best serves his own interests, and, if others benefit from such gestures, so be it. What ultimately matters most, though, is how things turn out for him in the end.

That approach is borne out of Blanco’s beliefs, what he draws from in manifesting the existence he experiences, a direct reflection of what each of us believes deep down inside. However, to bring about what we want – or what we think we want – we need to have a good handle on exactly what those beliefs are. If our assessment is off or if we try to fudge our beliefs to manipulate our reality into existence, we’re potentially setting ourselves up for trouble.

This is where the importance of integrity comes into play. In many regards, integrity is a core belief, one upon which all of our other intentions rest. If this component is missing or “adjusted” to meet certain ends, the beliefs that depend on it for their fulfillment have the potential to become comparably compromised, putting the materialization of our hoped-for creations in jeopardy. Indeed, if we want our beliefs to bear fruit as intended, we must have an unfettered sense of personal integrity in place, both where we and others are concerned. To do less is playing a loaded game of roulette, something that Blanco must contend with as his story unfolds.

Blanco gets himself into trouble here by blindly doing whatever he believes is necessary to achieve the outcome he desires. On the surface, that may sound ambitious, even admirable. However, when carrying out that mission involves veering into questionable territory, the possibility of encountering unexpected consequences or side effects enters the picture, potentially growing ever more problematic the more he detours from an integrity-based course. And, try as he might to set things right by coming up with increasingly jerry-rigged solutions, the further he strays from staying on track. In a bid to win the award he so ravenously covets, he continually sinks further into a morass of metaphysical quicksand from which escape grows ever less likely.

If you doubt that, consider the fallout that emerges out of each of the aforementioned scenarios: His relationship with Miralles suffers, potentially undoing personal and professional connections that have taken a lifetime to forge; once-harmonious working relationships on the floor of the Blanco plant deteriorate, creating chaos in a business whose inherent mission ironically is achieving balance and precision; interfering in Adela’s boutique strains his marriage and potentially undermines the operations of her business; and efforts aimed at silencing a disgruntled employee get ever more out of hand, leading to “solutions” with wider and more serious consequences. Then there’s Blanco’s self-serving personal ambitions with Liliana, acts of self-sabotage with the potential to ruin his life on so many fronts; it’s a venture he foolishly believes he can get away with free of complications as long as he applies enough finesse and tends to her needs. Where is the integrity in any of that?

The upshot of all this is that Blanco’s in line for a hefty dose of comeuppance, even if, ironically enough, he stands to get his way. Acts like these don’t automatically cancel out achieving our goal, but that doesn’t mean they don’t come with all sorts of qualifications or caveats. This, however, may be almost as problematic (if not more so) than not getting what we want. We should consider that as we move forward with our plans as well. As the old saying goes, sometimes getting what we want is just as bad as not getting what we want.

In an attempt to create a company that feels like “one big happy family,” Julio Blanco (Javier Bardem, left), owner of Basculas Blanco, a Spanish manufacturer of precision industrial scales, routinely seeks to foster a sense of camaraderie among his workers, as seen in “The Good Boss” (“El buen patrón”). Photo courtesy of TriPictures.

It should also be noted that the foregoing notions are not only applicable to individuals like Blanco, but also to organizations. In that sense, then, “The Good Boss” is as much a satirical treatise about the ways of the business world as it is about the buffoonery of a specific CEO. Companies may be collective entities, but their operations are governed by individuals who work together in agreement to achieve certain goals, all of which are, again, belief-based. And, like people, they’re just as capable of carrying out their initiatives in the same way as individuals do once their constituents reach consensus on their intents. This includes bending the rules on their sense of integrity when they believe it best suits them in fulfilling their objectives. Given the power that these entities wield, the implications of such ventures can be far more wide-reaching, too, potentially having seriously negative consequences for a broad range of affected parties. This narrative thus serves up a powerful cautionary tale, not just to those implementing these measures individually or collectively, but also to those who could be impacted by them once in place.

It’s ironic, too, that this all takes place in a company that manufactures scales, devices whose innate intent is to achieve balance. From what’s going on here, balance is a trait that’s notably lacking, just as it is in many businesses, regardless of what they make or what service they provide. While some might say this aspect of the narrative is a little too on the nose, it nevertheless helps to drive home the point of the film. We can only hope that the business world and those who make its decisions are paying attention if they know what’s good for them – and us.

It might appear comforting that there are still companies out there that genuinely care about the welfare of their employees, treating them like members of a big, loving family. But we must also be on guard that looks can be deceiving in this regard, both to us and to those in the driver’s seat. Writer-director Fernando León de Aranoa’s latest serves up a biting satire about the business world and the extremes to which companies will go to present squeaky clean, politically correct portraits of themselves to an easily gullible public, tactfully burying the compromises and questionable tactics they often must employ in realizing that goal. This offering is a perfect vehicle for Javier Bardem as the oily protagonist, playing the part with just the right amount of insincerity to be convincing without looking cartoonish, in a role backed by a superb ensemble of supporting characters. It’s regrettable that the picture gets off to a painfully slow start during much of the first hour, but the film more than makes up for this shortcoming in the second half, turning wickedly funny and occasionally disquieting in the end run. Be patient with this one, giving it ample time to develop; you won’t be disappointed with the payoff.

“The Good Boss” has been showered with honors and nominations at film festivals and in early awards season competitions thus far, achieving 30 wins on 50 nominations, many of them for Bardem’s outstanding lead performance. Look for more to follow as awards season heats up. Catch the film in theaters, where it’s currently playing, while you have the chance.

Bosses have traditionally been people we’re supposed to look up to. However, in recent times, they’ve often been the subject of justified ridicule due to their questionable, self-serving behavior, all the while trying to portray themselves as pinnacles of honesty, sincerity and compassion. And, oddly enough, many don’t learn from the examples set by their scandalized peers, continuing to carry on until caught, believing themselves to be hermetically insulated against criticism and allegations of wrongdoing or unethical behavior. So, with that in mind, “The Good Boss” should serve as a wake-up call to them (or to anyone purposely seeking to act deceptively) when it comes to matters such as those depicted here. Failing to do so could result in having to pay a high price, one greater than any award might afford.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Festival Time!


It’s that time of year again – the movie industry’s annual film festival season, a time to screen new offerings in a wide array of genres from all over the world. This year I’ll once again be watching offerings from Chicago’s 40th annual Reeling International LGBTQ+ Film Festival (September 22-October 6), the 58th Chicago International Film Festival (October 12-23) and the 31st annual Whitaker St. Louis International Film Festival (November 3-13). All of these events offer both virtual and theatrical screenings of their films, some of which are available for viewing regionally or nationally. Watch for upcoming reviews of the best releases from these festivals here and on my web site,

The Essential Power of Choice

Many of us face times when we’re presented with seemingly impossible decisions. The choices open to us may appear fundamentally unpleasant across the board, or they may give us options that have both upsides and downsides that might tend to cancel one another out. These conditions can make it difficult for us to know what to do, potentially leaving us locked in a state of stalemate. However, that need not be the case if we can hold on to our awareness of our innate power of choice, a capability showcased in the new political thriller/sports drama, “Olga” (web site, trailer).

Gymnast Olga Budiashkina (Anastasia Budiashkina) is torn. The 15-year-old daughter of a Swiss father and Ukrainian mother has spent her life in Kyiv, training and competing in events in her homeland. Over the years, she’s become a big deal in gymnastics circles, but, if she wants to live up to her potential, she needs to find better coaching and training facilities to help her develop, resources available in Switzerland. And, given her parentage, she’d qualify to train with and compete for that country’s national team, but that would also mean she’d need to relocate – and become a Swiss citizen. She would have to renounce her Ukrainian citizenship, because the country does not recognize dual affiliations. It’s a tough decision for someone so young, but there are other considerations as well.

For starters, it’s 2013, and Ukraine is in a period of internal turmoil. Even though the now-independent country is no longer under the thumb of Soviet rule, its leadership is nevertheless beholden to the nation’s strong-arm Russian neighbors, who are seeking to exercise undue influence in Ukraine’s affairs, especially in its economy, which has become rife with corruption. It’s a tense time in light of a growing opposition movement, which has become a frequent target of those who have something to lose. The criminal element routinely seeks to manipulate and inflict brutal retaliation against anyone who poses a challenge. That includes Olga’s mother, Ilona (Tanya Mikhina), an investigative reporter seeking to expose the racketeers, circumstances that threaten not only her, but also her daughter.

Gymnast Olga Budiashkina (Anastasia Budiashkina, foreground) loves her teammates and loves to compete but faces pressures most of us could barely handle, as seen in the thrilling new sports drama, “Olga.” Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

What’s more, relocating to Switzerland would represent a huge change for Olga. It would mean having to leave behind both her mother and her friends, like fellow gymnast Sasha Robtsova (Sabrina Robtsova), a spitfire competitor and an outspoken supporter of the opposition, at a time of rising upheaval at home. Such a change would also require her to learn a new language and culture and to attempt to forge new relationships with new colleagues (many of them gymnastic teammates suspicious of the outsider’s arrival), as well as relatives she’s never met before. That’s a lot to take in on top of the rigorous training she’d undergo in preparation for the upcoming 2014 European gymnastics championship in Stuttgart, Germany. But, if Olga wants to become a stand-out at that competition and be taken seriously as a viable candidate for the 2016 Olympic team, she’ll need to make the sacrifice to help prepare her for that destiny.

Once in Switzerland, Olga begins working on her adjustment. It isn’t always easy, though: She must get used to speaking French instead of Russian; she has to adapt to the training regimen of a new coach (Jérôme Martin); she struggles to become acquainted with teammates (Caterina Barloggio, Théa Brogli, Alicia Onomor, Lou Steffen) who don’t always have her best interests at heart; and she’s perplexed by some of the ways of unknown relatives, such as her inexplicably ornery grandfather (Roger Jendly). But that’s just the start of it.

Olga’s biggest test comes when the Maidan Uprising begins in Kyiv’s Independence Square in November 2013. The protests, which begin when the Ukrainian government chooses to abandon its plan to sign the European Union-Ukraine Association Agreement in favor of even closer ties with Russia, quickly leads to an ongoing string of violent street protests. And, before long, the Uprising soon expands its scope, calling for the resignation of President Viktor Yanukovych and an end to human rights violations. The tension has everyone on edge – and not just in Ukraine.

Despite being located hundreds of miles away, Olga is far from unaffected by the conflict. She worries about the well-being of her mother, who aggressively continues with her reporting, now from on the ground in Independence Square itself. She’s also fearful about Sasha’s safety, who has taken to the streets to join in the protests. She’s livid when she learns that her former coach (Alexander Mavrits) has abandoned the Ukrainian team in favor of a more lucrative position training Russian gymnasts. And, to complicate all of this, these developments emerge just as she’s approaching the European gymnastics championship.

This all prompts a major decision for Olga: Should she follow through on her plan to compete in the tournament she’s been so diligently training for, or should she return to Ukraine to join the fight and be with her people, most notably those she’s closest to? That’s a lot of pressure for anyone, but that’s especially true for an adolescent with big expectations placed on her shoulders (and much of it of her own making). It remains to be seen how matters will unfold, particularly when additional developments arise making the decision even more difficult. Suddenly even the most challenging piece of gymnastics apparatus doesn’t seem nearly as daunting.

The rigors of training are a big challenge for gymnasts, but, for those competing under the political conditions in Ukraine in 2013, they’re just the beginning, as seen in director Ellie Grappe’s thrilling new sports drama, “Olga.” Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

Clearly, Olga has a tough choice to make, with benefits and drawbacks associated with each option. For example, if she returns home, she can join the fight, support a noble cause, and be with her mother and friend, but she also risks life and limb, as well as her future, in doing so. On the other hand, if she stays in Switzerland, she can continue to train and compete, potentially earning accolades and opening up opportunities for the future, despite running the risk of being branded a self-serving coward by those back in Ukraine. Which is the better choice? Of course, only Olga can decide, but how does she go about that given the extraordinary circumstances involved and her limited life experience?

Regardless of which path she chooses, Olga should remain cognizant of the fact that she inherently possesses the power of choice, a power that’s always at her disposal, even if there are complications involved that make coming to a decision difficult. And the one clue that can help her sort out what to do rests with examining her beliefs, the foundation underlying how her existence unfolds. Like all of us, Olga can draw upon this school of thought in helping her to decide which path to follow, even if this practice comes with innate challenges that make identifying which option to pursue more than a little dicey.

In assessing those beliefs, it’s imperative to be honest with ourselves to identify exactly what they are. This, in turn, calls for drawing on our sense of personal integrity, as well as our ability to clear away any belief clutter or camouflage that might obscure our vision and keep us from seeing the truth. This can be challenging if we’re having to wrestle with conflicting or contradictory beliefs, as well as notions driven by fear, doubt or limitation, all of which can dilute our views and prevent us from isolating the essential beliefs we need to identify. What’s more, we may find that our beliefs might not seem to make rational sense, causing us to question the accuracy of our assessment of them.

So what are we to do in situations like this? If we’re able to successfully whittle away the flotsam and reveal the beliefs associated with our true selves, we should have faith in what we come upon, not to mention the process that helped us get there. Instilling this kind of conviction in ourselves goes a long way in making and embracing the choice we need to implement. Doing so will enable us to see the validity behind these beliefs and the decision that accompanies them, and it significantly increases the likelihood of attaining an outcome that suits us best, both for ourselves and anyone else who might be affected by our actions.

This might sound like an exercise in mental and metaphysical gymnastics (no pun intended), but, given Olga’s ability to focus, concentrate and channel her energies into grand undertakings in the gym, she’s eminently capable of doing the same when it comes to making the right choice, even if she doesn’t possess a wealth of experience in matters like this. Putting the foregoing process into place can thus bring her (and us, for that matter) a step closer to the destiny she (and we) are meant to live out. For someone like Olga, who has so many factors to consider and ultimately so much at stake both personally and vocationally, this consideration is especially crucial. With what’s on the line, she must proceed diligently, concertedly and forthrightly under circumstances like these to optimize the results she seeks to achieve. To do less could yield outcomes filled with frustration, disappointment, ridicule and even devastation, so getting her priorities straight is essential. In cases like this, let’s hope that Olga – and we – are up to the task.

The weight on the shoulders of 15-year-old gymnast Olga Budiashkina (Anastasia Budiashkina) is nothing to be envied, as seen in the engaging new sports drama, “Olga,” now available for streaming online. Photo courtesy of Kino Lorber.

What’s one to do when caught between the fulfillment of personal achievement or taking a stand for a larger cause? Such is the conundrum for the talented 15-year-old protagonist in writer-director Elie Grappe’s debut feature, a gripping tale that walks a perilous, tension-filled tightrope in telling a taut, compelling story that successfully fuses the political thriller and sports drama genres. The superb lead performance by former Ukrainian gymnast Anastasia Budiashkina is a real stand-out, successfully capturing the pressure, indecision and overwhelming emotion of someone who must rise to the occasion of everything she faces without collapsing under the weight of it all. Admittedly, there are a few under-explained gaps in the narrative that detract from the flow of the story, and some of the atmospheric cinematography definitely could have been improved upon with simple lighting adjustments. However, when it comes to the elements that matter most, it’s easy to see how this offering captured the SACD Prize at the 2021 Cannes Critics’ Week along with nominations for the film festival’s Golden Camera Award and Critics’ Week Grand Prize. “Olga” may not have attracted a lot of attention in its initial theatrical release, but it definitely deserves to do so now that it’s available for streaming online.

The power of choice is an innate birthright that we all possess, even if we don’t always recognize it as such. When faced with a difficult decision, it may seem like too much to handle, one that frequently prompts us to pivot into surrendering, proclaiming “I didn’t have a choice in the matter.” And, given the adversity in these situations, prevailing conditions may indeed make us feel that way. But, before we abandon hope, we should pause, breathe and take stock of the circumstances, after which we should strive to remember our fundamental capability to choose, no matter how arduous doing so may be, for it just might provide us with the insight we need. If we lose sight of that, there may be no turning back. But, if we hold onto it, even in the darkest of times, we just might come out of these scenarios with an answer that addresses all of our questions and provides us with the resolution we require.

A complete review is available by clicking here.

Copyright © 2022, by Brent Marchant. All rights reserved.