a gymnast on a high bar
Courtesy Cinéma Defacto

In 2013, a 15-year-old Ukrainian gymnast (Anastasiia Budiashkina) wants to represent her country in international competition and make her journalist mother proud. But when their car is T-boned on the way home from practice, in reprisal to the mother’s political stance against the Russian-backed government, the girl is sent to Switzerland to train in safety. The girl is isolated in a country where she hasn’t mastered the language and doesn’t know anyone—even though her late father’s family takes her in. Tensions rise when she beats out Swiss girls for a spot on the national team and she has to watch the Maidan protests back home via her phone, rather than being there, and must renounce her citizenship to keep training.

Budiashkina (a real former gymnast, as are many of her young costars) is the reason to see this fiercely earnest attempt to show the impossible choices athletes face when political events throw their work into an arena with very different rules than those they’ve prepared all their lives to triumph by. The film is at its best showing the brutal physical toll on young bodies and psyches exacted to reach the apex of competition. The intercutting of documentary footage from Maidan Square and the girl’s inner turmoil about whether to continue abroad or go home out of nationalistic sentiment is less convincing. The filmmakers try to make her ties to mother and country one and the same; it’s a questionable idea and one whose resonance will vary widely depending on the viewer’s own experience. A prosaic conclusion undercuts much of what came before and is hard to accept given the current situation in the country. This is a skillful but flawed portrait of amateur sports on the global stage that doesn’t quite stick the landing. In various languages with subtitles. 85 min.

The Wilmette Theatre