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Olmo and The Seagull (Olmo e a Gaivota)

Does being a mother make you a better person? This hybrid and very international doc-fiction examines the impact of maternity on a woman's personal life and work, with Chekhov's 'The Seagull' as the backdrop

Can a woman live in two different realities at the same time? Olmo and The Seagull tells the story of Olivia and Serge, who are rehearsing a theatrical production of Chekhov’s play The Seagull in Paris. The couple first met on the stage of Theatre du Soleil and theatre rules their private lives. The opening scene is a spinning dance in costume design and it is exactly this spirit of dizziness that lingers throughout the film.

The troupe has received some good news: in six months time they will be heading to New York and Montreal, but Olivia, who plays the aging actress Arkadina, is pregnant. At first she thinks she can have it all but she suffers an unexpected setback that threatens her pregnancy. So the film turns into a journey through Olivia’s mind and her unbalanced thoughts of who she is now. She is not anymore an actress and yet she fears how to be a mother.

It is significant that Olivia plays herself and also Arkadina. It is as if her character is speaking for her: “Am I then so old and ugly already that you can talk to me like this without any shame about another woman? Oh, you lost your senses! (…) You are my pride, my joy, my light. (…) You are mine, you are mine!”, says Arkadina in The Seagull. In fact, Olivia is jealous that her lover Serge is still in the troupe and planning to travel abroad. Will he leave her? Is the other actress better than her? In the film, she confesses that she doesn’t recognise the aggressiveness within her. Is it due to the hormones or is she becoming another person? Maybe she will go insane, just like Nina in the play…

The two female filmmakers beautifully capture the transformations in Olivia’s body, in minute detail. Olivia has to sacrifice her career for the sake of her baby’s health. Her new routine is a sort of sublimation: instead of taking care of the props on stage, she is now assembling the craddle. The film comes and goes into those two worlds: the theatre and Olivia’s house. But it is still a lot heavily pregnant theatre rehearsal – neither the play not the baby are out yet.

Serge is caught in the middle. It is a clash for him too, as he has to work, pay the bills and still comfort Olivia. On the other hand, the rite of passage entirely belongs to Olivia: the changes are in her life and in her body. A woman is a mother from the minute she is conceived; but a father is a father only when he sees and recognises his child.

There is a timing difference in nature. There is a delay caused by this adaptation to motherhood. The film translates this delay into a very French cinema: much talk, inner voices and few actions. As a whole, the film sheds new light on Chekhov’s works and innovations. The Seagull is considered the first of his four major plays. In contrast to the melodrama of mainstream 19th-century theatre, characters speak in ways that do not address their issues directly, and the message is often subliminal instead.

In Olmo and The Seagull, Olivia decides to promote a party for her friends at home. Maybe her old friends will remind her of whom she used to be, allowing her to move on. The film ends up as a question mark: does reality begin where acting ends? The result is a hybrid cross between documentary and fiction.

American actor and screenwriter Tim Robbins is the executive producer of the film. Together with his former partner, actress Susan Sarandon, Robbins has supported women’s rights in the US. Zentropa – the Danish production company founded by Lars von Trier – is also involved. In fact, this international co-production includes professionals from the US, Brazil, Spain, France, Italy and other countries. The film itself is spoken in various languages, more prominently, French and Italian. Last year, it inspired a pro-choice campaign in Brazil.

Olmo and The Seagull was presented in London as part of the Open City Documentary Film Festival last month. It will likely feature in other festivals across the country and the world soon. Click here for more information about the film, including distribution rights and upcoming screenings.

And don’t forget to watch the film trailer below:

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By Maysa Monção - 12-07-2016

Maysa Monção is a Brazilian writer, teacher, translator, editor and art performer who currently lives in London. She has a Masters Degree in Film Studies from Tor Vergata University in Rome, Italy, ...

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