Back in the magical year of 1996, when the world was a simpler place and vests, Rachel hair, “Seasons of Love,” and those tiny 15-year-old-girl backpacks that cinched at the top freely roamed the countryside, NBC produced a vital contribution to the canon of American documentary film detailing the trials and tribulations of one Rozalia Galieva. You may have heard.
We begin with the sun fading next to an onion dome. This is definitely not symbolism. No one here is using the subtlety of an anvil to imply that Russia is nothing more than a feeble husk of a former empire pathetically clinging to the last vile, shriveled wisps of long-faded power or anything. Who would do that?
Not Roza Galieva. She is a perfect sparrow made of angels, an innocent victim of an EVIL system, and now all the children of the world must gather around to learn the lessons of the epic, moving tale of the time “this happened to Roza Galieva.”
By “this,” do you mean having her hair smelled in the middle of flexibility training? That does sound traumatic. Of course, we all know that hair smelling is an intrinsic part of any respectable Eastern bloc training regimen. It’s why they’re so artistic. American gymnasts do the rope climb. Russian gymnasts cultivate their scalp scent. But no, something even worse than hair smelling happened to Roza Galieva.
At this point, Tesh informs us that now Roza is a withered old crone of 19, which is basically 40, which is like 90. By 19, a gymnast is more likely to be eaten by a shark than win an Olympic gold medal.
Speaking of being eaten by a shark, the 1992 Unified Team leotard.
But Roza Galieva wasn’t always a washed up 19-year-old hag. Back in ancient times when she was a fresh-faced young sprite with an acceptable age like 15, she was full of dreams and innocence. That was before she was personally victimized by Tatiana Gutsu. Tesh drops his voice 16 octaves to introduce Gutsu because she’s Ursula the Sea Witch now or something. He was speaking normally and then leaned into a drainpipe to say, “Tatiana Gutsu.” If you go into a bathroom and shout “Tatiana Gutsu” three times, her face will appear in the mirror. Maybe that’s what Roza just saw.
Hey Roza, you’re doing such a great job. Quick note: For the next take, could you try curling up into a fetal position and staring into the middle distance while picturing the genocide of millions? That’s really the tone we’re going for with this piece. Thanks so much, sweetie! Because why be emotional when you can be THE EMOTIONEST.
No one expected much from Roza Galieva.” OK, a couple things with that. First of all, false. She made the 1992 Unified Team. That’s no joke. She’s not Tiny Tim out there. Second, at that line, all I can think of is “The old Union Pacific doesn’t come by here much anymore.” Third, apparently no one expected much from her because she was the youngest member of the team. Yes, as we all know, being young is such a handicap in women’s gymnastics. That’s why Victoria Komova is so much better now than she was at 15.
This important film endeavor does succeed in making me feel for Roza because they make her such an Eeyore. If we were playing a game called “If the members of the 1992 Unified Team were characters from Winnie the Pooh, which ones would they be?” Roza Galieva would be Eeyore. Svetlana Boguinskaya would be Rabbit. Tatiana Lysenko would be Piglet. Vitaly Scherbo would be Christopher Robin. I could play this game all day.
But guess what?!?!? Roza Galieva overcame the odds we just invented to stack against her! When the big moment arrived, Tiny Tim threw off her crutches mid-routine and successfully completed a layout full, thereby winning gymnastics. And by winning gymnastics, I mean qualifying in 8th. But respect that full. There were probably not even five gymnasts at Worlds this year who could do a full that looked like that.
I also have to admit that John enunciates “little Roza Galieva” basically like a normal human being (or at least like the humanoid facsimile he was programmed to resemble), so I don’t really know why in my head he says, “Leeeeeeeeeeettle Roza Galieva” with 126 e’s. But he does, and that’s how it will stay. I think that’s because it’s slightly creepy, not in a “little girls dancing for gold” way, but close, so my brain made it a million times creepier, just to help.
Hooray! Leeeeeeeeettle Roza Galieva is going to the all-around final. “Or so it seemed.” GASP. TWIST. NARRATIVE TECHNIQUES.
Cue the fading amber light of regret and dashed hopes. Cue the return of Ursula the Sea Witch Voice. “Tatiana Gutsu.” You know she’s gymnastics royalty because twice in this piece her name is used as a complete sentence. As it should be.
Shocking the world, Gutsu fell on beam on her layout stepout mount. You can take the girl out of the Ukraine, but you can’t take the Ukraine out of the girl.
“Roza received the kiss of victory.” Is that a thing? Tatiana did not receive the kiss of victory. Instead, she received the Svetlana Boguinskaya neck massage of failure, which is much better. Did anyone give Jordyn Wieber a neck massage in 2012? No. Unacceptable.
But then, DRAMATICALLY Roza is removed from the all-around final with a DRAMATIC knee injury. “An injury . . . bum bum bum . . . SHE DID NOT HAVE.” Look out, Miss Marple is on the case.Roza couldn’t do anything about it, except look to the ground while the camera stays on her for 75 consecutive music-swelling minutes to indicate devastation.
Yet Roza’s musical devastation is not the true star of this scene. The true star is the patented 1996 self-consciously stereotypical voiceover translation, featuring wildly unnecessary and calculated moments of broken English. And by wildly unnecessary, I mean totally necessary. The Alexandrov guy is the best. “We even don’t know what was happen.” THAT DOESN’T MEAN ANYTHING. This is supposed to be a translation. Alexandrov himself could have given us “We even don’t know what was happen.” That’s like a Maria Bee Farm level translation.
As Tesh explains, Roza was pulled out the all-around because of a rusty gate. This is even less symbolic than the setting sun. The old Union Pacific really doesn’t go by there much anymore.
Dilapidated Soviet B roll to the rescue! Based on what US coverage has taught me over the years, I’m pretty sure Round Lake is actually a ditch underneath an abandoned munitions factory filled with stagnant water and scarlet fever.
In the Soviet system, “medals meant honor.” Those wacky Soviets. No capitalist nations associate winning medals with honor. The US gymnasts definitely aren’t taught to say “honored” whenever they don’t know what to say, or just as a replacement for any word whenever. “I’m just so honored to be part of this honored, and honored, and this team is so honored to represent Team USA honored.”
Alexandrov even considered taking Bogi out of the all-around, but “they were worried of a scandal.” You’re damn right they were worried of a scandal! You don’t cut Svetlana Boguinskaya. She’s Svetlana Boguinskaya. I would have been leading that scandal if I had known what a scandal was at the time.
Instead, Roza was the “sacrificial lamb.” I’m disappointed because this lamb reference was a prime opportunity for a shot of an actual lamb being led through the rusty Soviet gate. Boo.
Still, Alexandrov’s lamb sacrifice worked! The gods are appeased, and Tatiana Gutsu wins gold, which means it’s time to get her side of the story, because apparently this is a piece of journalism now. We finally meet Gutsu, who is sitting in the grandmother’s house from Little Red Riding Hood for some reason. She goes, “Who’s Roza Galieva?”
Not really. She undahstyand how her feelin’. Unlike Alexandrov, she even do know what was happen.
OK, let’s talk about those candles, you guys. All these super-powered TV lights aren’t cutting it, but those two candles should really do the trick. No, don’t light the fireplace!!! Are you crazy? I just want two candles sitting immediately next to the fireplace. It’s called a tableau, goobers. Super nailed it.
Declaration: We really need one of these pieces about Dominique Moceanu, where Dominique Dawes sits in the candy house from Hansel and Gretel going, “We don’t really talk.” Preferably while holding a giant lollipop.
But these days Roza is OK. (Ish.) She’s still the victim this piece needs her to be, but now she’s back to training with Arkayev, having finished her hair-smelling reps for the day, and once again the sun sets on the Soviet Empire. Or is it rising on Roza Galieva? DEEP. (It’s not.) Good night, everyone.