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OLEG (2019, LAT) – 7/10

Oleg (Valentin Novopolski) is a young butcher who went to Brussels in search of a better life. Although he spent his whole life in Latvia, since he is an ethnic Russian, he does not even have Latvian citizenship, so he was actually a kind of foreigner in the country who spent his whole life. And of course he works illegally in Belgium in a butcher’s shop with similar colleagues mainly from Eastern Europe, and the shaky, restless hand-held camera that director Juris Kursietis decided on seems to intensify the impression of anxiety, discomfort, claustrophobia and accentuates the bad living conditions that await Oleg there. He probably assumed that honey and milk flow in the west, that euros grow on trees, but clearly that is not the case. Given that Oleg is really a butcher by profession and wants to work honestly and prove himself, he is a thorn in the side of slackers and cheaters in the slaughterhouse where he is illegally employed.

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An already difficult situation will culminate when he is unjustifiably fired due to an incident for which he was not to blame, and the young Pole Andrzej (Dawid Ogrodnik) will appear as his savior, who claims that he will make amends for the situation in which his fellow countryman put him in the slaughterhouse. It’s not easy for Oleg, because he went to the west to cover the debts that he and the grandmother he grew up with fell into, and after he moves to Andrzej, where many other Polish illegals live, he will realize that this guy is anything but a savior. A Polish criminal will take advantage of the disastrous and hopeless situation in which a completely helpless young man who does not know anyone abroad has found himself, and before he turns around, Oleg will realize that he has become a slave of the head of a Polish criminal organization.

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This cautionary and realistic drama premiered in the director’s evenings of the Cannes festival, and was also chosen as the best Latvian film of the year. “Oleg” is a film that seems to continue the trend of Eastern European cinema, which seems to decompose the idea and misconception about Western Europe as a place where success is guaranteed. Of course, for those educated and capable people, success is often within reach, but who knows how many people from the east, desperate, poor, miserable, experienced Oleg’s fate. “Oleg” was filmed in a typical realistic style, and the camera practically constantly follows the main protagonist, who is well built and whose motivation we can fully understand until the end.

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