A beautiful young woman practices a complicated dance routine in front of her two female coaches. Instead of encouragement and support, the relationship between the three (particularly the malevolent older woman) is more about domination and a battle for personal identity. It sounds a lot like Luca Guadagnino's 'Suspiria', but it's actually a modern, real-life story.
"You're not a human being, you're an athlete," is one of the nicer comments directed at 20-year-old rhythmic gymnast Margarita Mamun as she prepares to represent Russia in rhythmic gymnastics at the Olympics. It is the most crucial year of her career and her last chance to achieve her ultimate dream - a gold medal. But no matter how gracefully Mamun catches rings or rolls a ball across her shoulders, her coaches expect more from her, time and again.
Director and former gymnast Marta Prus followed Mamun for 100 days in the lead-up to the Rio Olympics in 2016, filming the brutal way athletes are "prepared" for competitions. The coaches shower Margarita with praise one minute and yell profanities at her the next. In particular, Margarita's fur-clad, jewel-adorned coach, Irina Alexandrovna Viner-Usmanova, fires off verbal tirades every time the young athlete slips up, which makes training hard to distinguish from abuse.
As the current head coach of the national team and the president of the Russian Rhythmic Gymnastics Federation, Viner-Usmanova is a huge figure inside the International Gymnastics Federation and the single-greatest power in Russian rhythmic gymnastics. She's also the wife of Alisher Usmanov, the richest man in Russia and among the richest people on the planet.
What this boils down to is that if Viner-Usmanova wants to call a young gymnast a "fucking stupid bitch" (something that she does frequently during 'Over the Limit'), nobody is going to stop her. She's Allison Janney's mother-from-hell in Craig Gillespie's 'I, Tonya' smooshed together with Mother Helena Markos from 'Suspiria'. Amina Zaripova, her assistant coach, is more matronly and caring, but she also gets trash-talked and shut down, too.
Margarita Mamun's father was battling cancer while Prus was shooting the documentary. She receives word of his diagnosis in the film over the phone from her mother, but doesn't tell Zaripova or Viner-Usmanova; she tells a trainer because she has questions about her father's chart. But Zaripova finds out anyway and while trying to reassure her that her father will be okay, tells her not to take anymore phone calls from her mother.
What this means is that if Viner-Usmanova wants to call a young gymnast a "fucking stupid bitch" (which is something that she does frequently during 'Over the Limit'), nobody is going to stop her. She's Allison Janney's mother-from-hell in Craig Gillespie's 'I, Tonya' smooshed together with Mother Helena Markos from 'Suspiria'.
In the roughest scene, Viner-Usmanova tries to get the girl to evoke tragedy in her performance. "Talk about your dad. Talk about everything. Don't be a coward." Later, she tells Zaripova that she told Mamun to think of her father to get into character. "I've told her, to show a tragedy, that her dad is dying," Viner-Usmanova says. Zaripova stares at her, remaining silent but clearly shocked.
With no narration or direct interviews, Prus' objective lens doesn't just expose the practices of Russian gymnastics training or paint a captivating portrait of a young woman striving to win a gold medal at the most important sporting event in the world. It captures the battle of a young woman trying desperately to retain her own humanity in the face of nearly overwhelming psychological pressure. It's a document of her odyssey toward achieving artistic perfection, and of the price to be paid for it.