Rita spends most of her life on a training mat. She is twenty years old and is preparing for a performance at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. She has been training for thirteen years, and for seven years she has been a pupil at Novogorsk – an elite training centre run by Irina Viner-Usmanova, once a prominent sportswoman, and now a coach and wife of Russia’s most powerful oligarch.
‘She needs to be trained like a dog’, says Irina Vincer of her protégé in one scene. To get the coveted medal and to hear Russia’s anthem at the Olympic arena, Rita trains eight hours a day and devotes her whole life to sport.
Marta Prus, a young director singled out by Variety as one of Europe’s ten filmmakers worth following, tells Rita’s story in her full-length documentary debut. But Marta Prus is not interested in Rita’s life or her way to the top. She is interested in the price the young girl has to pay for success. It is solitude – separation from her family, constant trips preventing her from seeing her fiancé, and finally – inability to spend the final months with her father dying of cancer.
In Over the Limit, Adam Suzin’s camera zooms in on the heroines, trying to introduce us into their intimate world. It is specifically thanks to stellar cinematography and Maciej Pawliński’s editing that Marta Prus’s film achieves an impressive intensity and allows the viewer to feel Rita’s loneliness when facing her competitors, as well as her own weaknesses and anxieties and her coaches’ expectations.
Marta Prus believes in her protagonist. Instead of reaching for formal tricks and experimenting with a documentary narrative, she simply follows Rita’s emotions. In a formidable manner, she traces the toxic but also very ambiguous relationship between the sportswoman and her coaches – her personal trainer and manager Irina Viner.
Following Over the Limit’s premiere at the IDFA festival in Amsterdam, The Hollywood Reporter’s Neil Young wrote:
With her first full-length documentary debut Over the Limit, the Polish director Marta Prus did for rhythmic gymnastics what Damien Chazelle did for drumming with Whiplash.
Chazelle’s film – a story about a talented student and authoritarian teacher – is often recalled in Marta Prus’s documentary’s reviews because of the similarity of the relationship between the master and disciple. However, in Over the Limit, Marta Prus steers away from the black and white contrast between a good gymnast and a cruel coach. Indeed, she shows that Irina Viner’s methods are often immoral (she exploits a dying father in order to motivate Rita), but in the end they allow her pupil to get to the top.
Although the director admits in an interview for Culture.pl that initially her film was to be a story about contemporary Russia, with the world of gymnasts and their coaches serving only as a political metaphor, in the end, Over the Limit ended up not as a political film but a documentary psychological drama. A very moving drama – one should add.
This is also thanks to the humbleness of the creators, who were able to hide behind the characters and allowed them to tell their stories, and to the film form, which works in the story’s favour and brings out additional meanings.
Over the Limit, a Polish-German-Finnish co-production, had its world premiere in November 2017 at IDFA – the most prestigious European documentary film festival. It was also screened at festivals in Göteborg, Moscow, Munich, Vienna, Toronto and at the esteemed Visions du Réel festival in Nyon. Over the Limit will have its Polish premiere at the 58th Krakow Film Festival.
- "Over the Limit", written and directed by Marta Prus, cinematography: Adam Sebastian Suzin. editing: Maciej Pawliński music: Mikołaj Stroiński. production: Maciej Kubicki, Anna Kępińska.
Written in Polish by Bartosz Staszczyszyn, translated by Patryk Grabowski, Apr 2018