“Olya’s Love” is a personal narrative of a lesbian’s life in Russia

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To be a lesbian living in Russia–I can only imagine what that’s like. But that’s not the sort of thing you should imagine, as you run the risk of over- or understating it (two extremes that won’t do). Instead, we should be listening to the voices on the ground that can speak to the reality of LGBT Russians. That’s what the documentary Olya’s Love brings us.

The movie follows activist Olya, a young woman living with her girlfriend Galiya and raising hell on the streets of Moscow. Every shot in this film either features Olya or connects us with her in some way–this is her story. And she’s definitely more than the dreadlocks, tattoos and piercings that scare her mother so much.

Olya’s embracing of activism is a relatively new thing for her. Before, she was simply an exceptional student, inclined to stay in line and even engaged to a man. Everything changed when she met Galiya.

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The two have been together for two years, and during this time it’s been protest after protest. From shouts of “Free Pussy Riot!” to kiss-in campaigns, Olya’s in the thick of it all. I have to note that these are not the peaceful protests around LGBT issues that many of us in the West have come to know. People throw fists, and they connect. It’s scary.

In the context of the Russian LGBT propaganda law, you can’t help but feel that the violence is unofficially permissible. The unsympathetic police shown in the film and the young “Orthodox activists” who think it’s okay to fling around words like “brainless” and “unnatural” certainly make it seem like this is the case.

This is Olya’s world, but she’s also a woman in a relationship, looking forward to the possibility of having children. No relationship, however, is without its struggles and the same goes for hers.

I admire Olya, truly. She uses her words to fight her battles and, more importantly, she knows her shit. If there’s one moment that will impress you in the movie it’s sure to be her breaking down, point after point, the propaganda law to a room largely full of people that aren’t particularly compassionate. Somehow she keeps her cool.

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About midway through the film I did wonder why we weren’t seeing supplemental interviews from state officials, journalists, top activists and the likes. Wouldn’t that give the audience a better understanding of exactly what’s going on in Russia? Yet as the film progressed, I realized documentaries like that already exist (and I hope more will come!) and that’s not what I wanted from Olya’s Love after all. I wanted more of Olya at her best and most vulnerable. That’s exactly what we get.

I can happily report that I enjoyed this short documentary (it tops out at just over an hour). And if you like personal narratives and have any interest in what’s going down in Russia, it’s a safe bet you’ll like it too.

The film will be playing at Frameline in San Francisco on June 20. It’s also available on Vimeo on Demand.

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