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Flicks - Elena
Elena 12/07/12 2:17
Flicks - Elena
A new Russian film about an aging woman with conflicting loyalties catches the viewer by surprise with its chilling vision of relationships. Elena, the latest film from Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev, is a subtle portrayal of the conflict between two alien socioeconomic realms, united in the stolid title character, a retired nurse and grandmother played by Nadezhda Markina. The film opens slowly with the dawn as Elena awakens in a spacious, rather luxurious apartment, opens the curtains, and gets tea and breakfast for her husband Vladimir (played by Andrey Smirnov), a frail looking man who looks at least ten years older than his wife. The conversation at breakfast is a bit sharp—Elena is going to visit Sergey, her adult son from a previous marriage, to give him some money and groceries. Vladimir expresses impatience with her taking care of Sergey. Why can't he get a job?
When Elena goes her to her son's house, the contrast couldn't be greater. It's a cramped, decrepit, Soviet-style flat with a full view of the nuclear power plant next door. Sergey has a wife, a shiftless teenage son, and also a newborn that makes grandmother Elena's face light up. The son wants to know if Vladimir might be able to help his teenager avoid the army by paying his college tuition. Of course Vladimir bristles when Elena brings this up the next day. Why should he have to support her family? She's resentful also of his continued regard for his daughter Katerina, whose complicated and somewhat hostile relationship to her father is revealed in a marvelous hospital scene after Vladimir has had a heart attack.
Helped along by an ominous Philip Glass musical score, Zvyagintsev's film, written by Oleg Negin, takes you by surprise, with the complex implications of this family struggle doubling as a kind of class struggle, and a portrait of the modern Russian predicament. The seemingly placid main character, a housewife with conflicted loyalties, is faced with choices that the audience can sympathize with, even though they have unexpected and unfortunate consequences. At the heart of Elena is a vision of human relationships and society that is disturbing and ultimately chilling. There are some lessons we wish we didn't have to learn.