Juris Kursietis’ Oleg Review

The decision to leave one’s home country is never easy and no one really knows what awaits them out there. Oleg by Juris Kursietis weaves its way along this line, painting a relatable immigrant story of Oleg (Valentin Novopolskij), a Latvian butcher who moves to Belgium in search of a better life. He gets a job in a meat factory in Brussels and at first, everything goes well… Until his dream is shattered when he loses his job and is blamed for the accident of his co-worker Krzysztof (Adam Szyskowski), who came to work drunk and cut his finger on a meat saw. Oleg, now without a work permit, soon becomes dependent on Polish mafia, where a hot-tempered criminal Andrzej (Dawid Ogrodnik: Ida) takes him under his wing. Oleg keeps falling lower and lower as he struggles to come to terms that he might not be able to return home…

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Photo © Arizona Distribution

Juris Kursietis’ second feature reflects on the current economic migration and its victims. Oleg comes to Belgium with good intentions, but ends up being constantly rejected by the capitalist system; he is at the same time distant and unfathomable to the audience, but also has a likeable and relatable character. While watching the film, it is possible to feel claustrophobic on behalf of Oleg, trapped in a situation with basically no way out as again and again, Juris Kursietis’ portrait of the vulnerable Latvian draws on a rough, dark and sparse narrative.

There are no over-the-top moments in the film; it is merely a slow burner as Oleg’s situation unravels step by painful step. The film does not abuse the subject of immigration, but instead, it delineates an honest picture of how it is possible for a person to lose their autonomy in today’s modern, democratic society.


Photo © Arizona Distribution

The symbolism in the film has as much of a role to play as do the relationships between the characters, while the music score by the Russian composer Georgy Sviridov and the Latvian composer Peteris Vaks beautifully supports the narrative with its powerful sound. With slightly unstable camera movements, close-ups and gritty, dark-bluish hues from the Academy-Award-nominated cinematographer Bogumił Godfrejów, Oleg feels almost like a documentary; to achieve this affect, Godfrejów used a mini Alexa to shoot the film, on which the cinematographer attached an 18 mm lens.

With Brexit approaching and nationalist politics underway in EU parliament, many EU citizens that live outside of their own countries feel isolated and are probably considering whether returning home would be their best option, even though there might not be any prospects for a good life. A person does not have to be in the same situation as Oleg, but the fear and the reality of being unwanted put the film’s protagonists into the same boat with many, even if they have slightly different life circumstances. Inspired by a true story, Oleg is multilayered and free to be interpreted in any of the ways. It is a deep and fascinating journey into one of the hundreds of million immigrants’ lives and should not go unnoticed.


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Photo © Arizona Distribution

Written by Maggie Gogler

Edited by Sanja Struna


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