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Sasha's Game

average rating is 2 out of 5


Patrick Foley


Posted on:

Oct 8, 2023

Film Reviews
Sasha's Game
Directed by:
Lexee Gordoun
Written by:
Lexee Gordoun & Anita Selzer
Keanu Norman, Olga Olashansky, Robert McFarnlane

Inspired by Anita Selzer’s book about her father and grandmother’s experiences of the Holocaust, Sasha’s Game is a dramatic short inspired by incredible true events, but one that never really engages with the implication of its story beyond surface level.


As war breaks out across Europe and persecution of Jews in German-occupied regions explodes, Sasha (Keanu Norman) and his mother Larissa (Olga Olshansky) seek refuge any way they can. Larissa has a groundbreaking and unconventional idea when she comes into possession of German passports – one of which is that of a young girl. Sasha is presented with a plan of survival, but in disguising himself as ‘Sala’, a young girl – the pair wonder whether he will be able to keep up the charade, and what type of person will emerge if he can.


The depth of World War Two and Holocaust cinema means that the bar for any film set in the era is stratospheric. The true-life story of Sasha’s Game is a genuinely remarkable one that offered the opportunity for scarcely-seen fresh angles of the conflict and genocide. However, the result itself is a somewhat bland and typical short film that goes through the World War Two motions without offering much of an original perspective. Sasha’s predicament is presented without being interrogated. The consequences of the ruse’s discovery are there, but not so much the unspeakable malice with which the Nazis would treat a cross-dressing Jew. Sasha’s conflictions around hiding both his personal and gender identity are similarly shown, but again little is made of what life is like for Sasha (or ‘Sala’ by this point) once the decision has been made, or what the consequences are for him once the War is over – despite extended flashforward sequences.


The War’s portrayal in the film is understandably sanitised in order to make it friendly for general audiences. The horrors of the concentration camps are largely averted and Nazism is presented as a self-evident evil as opposed to a poisonous and parasitic political/ideological strain. The film’s aim is to tell Sasha’s story and the basic facts of this are realised – but this story is robbed of some of its power without the stark, difficult and unavoidable realities of the War. And given that forces of extremism, discrimination and far-right ideology are becoming more comfortable rearing their head in the past decade, a Holocaust film without this sort of analysis feels lacking. Even without straying into a LGBT/gender ideology context (given that Sasha’s presenting as a female is never implied to be anything other than a survival method), there is unexplored depth left of the table.


Production-wise the film looks impressive enough considering its reduced budget, although the lighting occasionally screams ‘studio’ and the grey-washed hue during the war scenes feels awfully 2000s. Performances are middling and melodramatic, with cartoonish displays of the Nazi officers who would be more at home in an Indiana Jones knock-off amongst the worst of the lot. Olga Olshanksky as Larissa is given most opportunity to demonstrate her talents, but overdoes the film’s more intense moments with vessel-bursting straining usually reserved for amateur dramatics.


Sasha’s Game accomplishes the filmmakers’ ultimate goal of bringing its subjects story to the screen, but its lack of depth means this short story is unlikely to make much of an impression on any remotely seasoned viewer. It’s hard to imagine my audience members seeking out Holocaust stories to expect their serving to be lightly seasoned, and failure to engage beyond the story beats is what makes this ‘game’ one that will sadly be forgotten.

About the Film Critic
Patrick Foley
Patrick Foley
Digital / DVD Release, Theatrical Release, Short Film
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