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Review: Elena (2011)

Elena (2011)

Directed by: Andrei Zvyagintsev | 109 minutes | drama | Actors: Yelena Lyadova, Nadezhda Markina, Aleksey Rozin, Andrey Smirnov

Director Andrei Zvyagintsev made his masterly debut in 2003 with ‘The Return’ (a story captured in magnificent visual language about two boys who embark on a dramatic journey with their long-absent father). His second film ‘The Banishment’ was also enthusiastically received.

In his third film ‘Elena’ he again comes close to the level of his debut film. Supported by an effective and intriguing musical score by Philip Glass (a well-known composer/performer of minimal music), a strong example of cinema was presented that was awarded the jury prize at the Cannes Film Festival in the ‘Un Certain Regard’ program section. ‘Elena’ won the Grand Prix at the Ghent Film Festival.

Themes in the film are the complexity of family relationships and the uncompromising willingness of a mother to do everything for a child, even when that child should hardly have any claim to it. Ingredients such as social inequality, cultural class differences, abundance or lack of money are – enhanced with envy and greed – a risky cocktail. It may sound like the recipe for a cheap soap opera, but ‘Elena’ is a great mix of intriguing psychological drama and a kind of thriller.

Elena (Nadezhda Markina) is married for the second time to Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov). Vladimir is wealthy and met her ten years earlier when he was nursed by her in the hospital. Elena has a comfortable life with him. She takes care of him lovingly, but also spends the necessary time with the family of her son Sergey (Aleksey Rozin), who goes through life as the proverbial good-for-nothing. Sergey lives with his family in poor conditions in a remote suburb. Laziness and drinking are an important part of his daily routine. Elena, against Vladimir’s wishes, constantly brings them groceries and money. Sergey’s eldest son needs a large sum of money to be able to study, otherwise he has to join the army (towards Chechnya) where the conditions are barbaric.

When Elena asks Vladimir for a loan for Sergey, her husband refuses. “That sloth needs to solve his own problems.” However, Vladimir also has his own problems: his daughter Katya (Yelena Zyadova) hardly wants any contact and throws harsh reproaches in his face about his materialistic attitude.

The events follow each other in a masterly elaboration. The film convinces with strong acting by Nadezhda Markina in particular, who convincingly portrays her personal struggle. The camera work captures the atmosphere very well. The supercooled tension is built up sublimely and the closing image is also of psychological class. A diabolical dilemma that is intriguingly and convincingly worked out.

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