My first encounter with Olga was remarkable. It took place in Cudjaur, a small village in Russia, hidden away on the tundra of the Kola Peninsula’s mountains. Olga sat on the earthen floor of a cabin, surrounded by dogs and eating her food. When I said hello to her, my host told me that was unnecessary, since Olga was deaf and would not hear or understand what I said. I was told that Olga was not like anyone else. It was best to leave her alone.
A few days later we were hit by a terrible blizzard. The reindeer herdsmen had departed and Olga and I were trapped alone in the cabin by the storm. We sat silently and stared at each other. There was something about her that struck me as being familiar. I recognised that look in her eyes from somewhere. Had I not met her somewhere before? After two days, I wished her good morning. And then she started to talk. She spoke non-stop for two days. She told me about the time she had stumbled upon a raging bear. The autumn day she had been trampled by a herd of several thousand reindeer, but could still stand up completely unhurt when the snow smoke had dispersed. She was so eloquent and so skilful at telling her stories that I was completely dumbfounded. Captivated by the magic of the spellbinding world of her narrations. Her storytelling would probably never have ceased if the blizzard had not ceased unleashing its fury. One day the sun started to shine again and the spell was broken.
The members of the reindeer-herding brigade returned and life went back to normal. The masterly narrator Olga was once again transformed into the deaf and dumb girl in the corner. The one everyone shouted at, because that was the only way to make her understand.
However, I had witnessed her transformation and realised at last where it was I had met Olga, or perhaps her sister. Italy 1954. Gelsomina was her name then. She was a character in a film entitled “La Strada”, accompanying a cruel strongman called Zampanò. Or maybe Olga is the present-day soul sister of Gelsomina?
The girls have too much in common for it to be a matter of chance. Both are sad and naive nomads, blindly following strong and uneducated men. Gelsomina was the assistant of the itinerant strongman Zampanò. Olga has put her life in the hands of the herdsmen. Gelsomina belonged to a circus, while Olga migrates with the reindeer herd, and the men who work with her are considered as “clowns” by their “civilized” Russian neighbours. Olga’s and Gelsomina’s character and fate have many other similarities which make them “sisters”, at least with regard to their destiny and spirit.
That was why I started to make a film about her, in spite of the fact that I had been warned by many not to do so. I was informed that there were so many other more important people to make a film about. A lonely and poor itinerant woman is not someone one should waste money on. This has always been the case.
Gelsomina or Olga, thank you for allowing me to accompany you along the migration route.