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SARAJEVO 2019 Documentary Competition

Review: The Golden Girl

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- Romanian directors Denisa Morariu Tamaş and Adrian Robe explore a dramatic moment in the history of competitive gymnastics

Review: The Golden Girl
Andreea Răducan in The Golden Girl

Shot in 2015 and 2016, the documentary The Golden Girl centres on Romanian gymnast Andreea Răducan, who won the all-around gold medal at the 2000 Olympics, only to be forced a day later to renounce her title and her medal following a controversial doping test. This Romanian feature produced by HBO Europe and directed by first-time helmers Denisa Morariu Tamaş and Adrian Robe is competing at the Sarajevo Film Festival.

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We meet Răducan, now a retired gymnast and a successful businesswoman, in 2015, as she starts to investigate the possibility of convincing the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to give her back her medal. A decade and a half after the events, her life is still dominated by the fact that one of the Committee’s controversial regulations stripped her of the most important title an athlete can dream of attaining: the Olympic gold medal. We see her telling her story (especially through a rather dubious conversation with a psychiatrist), and through extensive archive footage, we witness both the events of the 2000 Olympics and the hardships in the life of a teenage gymnast.

Given that the documentary presents Răducan as an improbable David preparing to face an indifferent, institutional Goliath, the audience expects a fight, but unfortunately, said fight is surprisingly lacklustre. From the point of view of the premise, The Golden Girl is not much more than a series of meetings with various members of the sports world – including Romanian gymnast Nadia Comăneci, and former IOC employees who all tell Răducan that she rightfully deserves her medal – which soon becomes rather repetitive and anticlimactic. Although suing the Committee is always presented as a possibility, our David shows up on the battlefield but doesn’t really want to fight, which strips the documentary of its most efficient way to engage and impress.

While The Golden Girl is not up to the task it sets for itself in the synopsis, the documentary does provide valuable insight into the life of a gymnast. It is also an efficient exploration of the immense pressure an athlete feels in competition, when it is not only her or his wellbeing or career at risk, but also the expectations of an entire country. In the context of a difficult period for Romania – at the beginning of the millennium, Romanians were still facing the economic challenges of a difficult transition – there were so few reasons for national pride in the former communist country that the achievements of a 15-year-old weighing only 37 kg were blown out of proportion, the gold medal becoming a national obsession.

There is something almost philosophical in Răducan’s plight. After more than a decade of brutal training sessions (the archive footage shows some abusive techniques that would now likely put an end to trainers’ careers), the gymnast reaches the stars, only to be flung into the abyss (and a media frenzy) on a technicality. A festival programmer with an eye for unfortunate twists of fate would quickly put together a double bill of The Golden Girl and Alexandru Mavrodineanu’s more accomplished and nuanced Caisă [+see also:
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. In one, the title character is stripped of her dignity, while in the other, the protagonist isn’t even allowed to climb out of the abyss.

The Golden Girl was produced by HBO Europe and Romanian production companies Edmont Film and Monogram Film. The documentary is being handled internationally by Canada’s Syndicado Film Sales.

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