7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
After such a slow start that I began to wonder if the projection had jammed, this proves to be an absorbing character study of a second marriage between Vladimir, a wealthy sexist pensioner and Elena, his former nurse, now a useful housewife and occasional bedmate. In this unequal relationship, Elena seems at first resigned to her dull yet comfortable routine, but we begin to see the quiet subversiveness with which she uses her credit card to provide food for her waster of a son, his long-suffering wife and children who live crammed into a grim concrete block of flats. Although aware of her son's flaws, she does not see why his children should suffer, when Vladimir's own wayward daughter is indulged through an accident of birth. Perhaps we see here a residue of the Communist ethos surviving in a fractured modern Russia where the less able languish in poverty whilst the successful live on a par with the most prosperous parts of the capitalist west. Certainly, the camera lingers on shots of both smart inner city streets and the sordid subways leading to rubbish-strewn wasteland round giant cooling towers cheek-by-jowl with high rise slums.
The film builds to quite a tense and absorbing drama, but disappointed me by an inconclusive and perhaps intentionally amoral ending which could have been more poignant, disturbing, surprising, ironical according to the turn of events chosen.
I believe that this film started off in the west on an apocalpytic theme, but was modified away from this when transferred to Russia, perhaps retaining a nihilist aspect. A little too long with a few superfluous scenes - such as the shot of a nurse stripping a bed or perhaps I missed the point - this is a visually striking, psychologically quite subtle film with an ending which I suspect will divide opinion.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
Probably not quite the review title to enthuse potential viewers I'll admit, but it is rather difficult to see Andrey Zvyagintsev's 2011 cynical (but totally realistic), urban (Moscow-set) drama in any other way. Rather-like a Leigh/Loach/Dardennes film, but without the humour (that's another swathe turned off!), Elena is an intimate, slow portrait of the dilemma faced by the middle-aged grandmother of the title as her sense of duty to her 'waster' son (and his family) has a devastating impact on her own (recent) marriage to wealthy (and ailing) businessman, Vladimir.
Although not a fan of too much 'genre-ising' in cinema, Zvyagintsev's film would certainly fit firmly into any definition of 'slow cinema', with cinematographer Mikhail Krichman's camera adopting a minimalist approach (long static shots) as it slowly traverses both the upmarket apartment occupied by Elena and Vladimir and the graffiti-emblazoned high-rise inhabited by Elena's unemployed son Sergei, his wife Tatyana and their two sons (an infant and teenager Sasha). Elena can certainly be interpreted as quite a scathing condemnation of the state of 'Moscow society' (although many of its 'failings' no doubt apply equally to other 'western' societies), whereby social alienation and lack of a sense of personal responsibility has taken hold - whether it be via the archaic attitudes of elderly Vladimir and his estranged, nihilistic, 'little rich girl' daughter Katarina (an excellent Elena Lyadova) or via the Jeremy Kyle (Russian-equivalent)-watching, computer game-playing wastrels of Sergei and family. In these respects, Zvyagintsev's tale is totally uncompromising, and contains some moments of memorably caustic dialogue (invariably featuring Katarina).
Acting-wise Zvyagintsev's cast is pretty much uniformly excellent with father and daughter Vladimir and Katarina both impressive as 'world-weary' souls, whilst Nadezhda Markina's sombre (and eventually scheming) title character is also totally convincing. Undoubtedly, Elena is something of a 'mood film' and, although it does have one or two moments of (redeeming) poignancy (such as when the camera tracks photos on the wall of Elena in past, perhaps happier, times), its largely amoral statement on the world is quite likely to alienate both 'dreaming optimists' and manic depressives alike! Indeed, I was initially tempted to rate it as three stars (for this reason) but decided that its painful realism warranted more.
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
This award-winning foreign language film is touted as a 'thriller' but really it's much more of a slow-burn psycho-drama, peeling back layers of modern, urban Russian life. It's thoughtful and thought-provoking, with subtle strands of tension throughout.
At its core lies the relationship between Vladimir, a wealthy older man and Elena, his nurse-turned-wife. He's trim, efficient and sparse - much like his sleek, expensive apartment. She's dowdy, chunky and plain. He sleeps in king-size luxury - she sleeps on the sofa bed in the spare room. They've both had earlier relationships and have problematic encounters with grown-up children, and this marriage seems very much to be one of functional convenience. She's a housekeeper with added duties in the bedroom, definitely the dependent partner in the relationship who cooks, cleans, carries and fetches, and almost needs to account for every rouble she spends on groceries.
Yet this is not a loveless marriage. When Vladimir falls ill, Elena overcomes her unfamiliarity with the church to light candles and pray for him. She implores his awkward daughter not to agitate him, not to make matter worse. Her domestic duties are wearily but efficiently accomplished, but she seems genuinely flattered when Vladimir takes her to bed for a conjugal interlude...
As the film unfolds, in its meandering but inevitable manner, Elena must make a choice between her husband's wishes and the future of her family - including her feckless grandson who will be drafted if she can't come up with a substantial sum of cash, quick.
The film depicts in coarse detail the reality of life in modern Moscow, switching from the plush apartment of a successful businessman to the near-feral high-rise apartment block where Elena's son and family spend their days, playing computer games and drinking her pension. It demonstrates the conflicts between love and family loyalty; explores the contradictory nature of the parent-child relationship, and raises all manner of questions about fairness, equity and just desserts. 'Elena' can feel somewhat stilted in its delivery but it's sneakily subtle in its emotional contrasts: observe how Elena and her adult son interact at the kitchen table, how their relationship only flares when money is mentioned, and compare it to the prickly bedside scene between Vladimir and his daughter which crackles with antagonism but also genuine communication between generations.
There are also some weird moments which increase the unsettling nature of the film, like the extended opening scene with its stunning focus shift; the dead white horse by the railroad tracks; the baby rolling around on the king-size bed with all of its life ahead of it...
In the end, 'Elena' draws to a close without reaching a traditional movie climax and leaves many of the questions it asks hanging. It's a fascinating glimpse into life in modern Russia - highlighting the growing similarities between urban societies in East and West. But it wasn't an entirely enjoyable film, I have to say - intriguing, beautifully filmed, with some superb acting, but quite hard work.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on 17 January 2014
I'm very glad I bought this DVD because it presents an intriguing and at times tragic human episode through the characters caught up in its narrative. These characters are all (as in real life) flawed and it is ironic that the one character who technically and intrinsically commits the greatest sin is the one for whom I felt the most sympathy at the end. OK for me that the film is not action packed and at times progresses at a lethargic pace but this to me is its strength - one of the reasons for its thought-provoking success is due to its sense of timing. The viewer is given the opportunity to weigh up the very serious issues that are at stake for the main players and to appreciate their slide towards what seems like the inevitable consequences. We are encouraged in today's world to think that our lives are full of ''choices'' by dint of the fact that we have ''freedom'' but this film (set in a Russia ''emancipated'' from communism) is a reminder that it's not quite so simple as that !
on 20 May 2015
It is difficult to rate this movie after seeing the Leviathan which is, in my mind, clearly superior to this one. But, to be fair, this is also an excellent film on its own, deserving the top mark.
Zvyagintsev's trademark is to structure the movie as a glimpse through the window at some dramatic episode in other people's life. This is not a story in conventional sense with clearly defined beginning and end -- viewer gets some subtle hints about the past events through the characters interaction (mostly from the dialogues). For such approach to work the script should be carefully composed and some concentration from the viewer is required, but the end result is very absorbing experience. At least this is how it works for me. I guess the reason for this is that it gives more space for one's imagination to work.
I read some complaints about how director depicted the poor people (protagonist's son and his family) as poor not only in money, but in spirit also. First of all, sadly, but this is often the case -- I have seen plenty of such people myself. Being poor deprives you from many development opportunities during the childhood and then it continues into your adult life and then you are likely to pass it to your children and so on. The father-child interaction, shown in this movie, demonstrates it quite vividly. I do not think it is fair to blame the director on showing the side of life which one does not like. Secondly, the life of the rich people shown (male protagonist and his daughter), although superficially more sophisticated, in many ways demonstrates the similar lack of purpose. All this is my opinion, of course.
Finally, when watching this movie I could not help but notice the major stretching point -- it is highly unlikely, that wealthy man would reveal to Elena information, which then led to the film's climax. Interestingly, apparently the actor, playing the role, also felt the same way and said so to director -- such behaviour goes against the grain of the character. Zvyagintsev replied, that he is aware of it, but it could not be avoided as this scene is pivotal for the movie.
To summarise -- do not expect a lot of action, but watch this movie carefully and you are likely to be rewarded with a deep and absorbing experience.
on 4 April 2015
¡ SPOILER ALERT !
Un Certain Regard winner at Cannes (2011), Elena--(directed by one of Russia's most talented young directors, Andrey Zvyagintsev)--is a visually appealing and subtly intellectually compelling look at contemporary Russian society in this age of post-hypercapitalistic pluto-oligarchic global-corporatism.
The really interesting thing is that though Russian society has experienced so much excruciating turmoil in the last 100 years, basic elements of millennial duration have remained unchanged: those of the basic family unit and a deep commitment to the Eastern Orthodox church.
And so in this high-and-low picture we get Dostoyevskian dialogue and traditional images conveyed in a smoothly sibilant Muskovite patois.
Certainly Russia is no worse-off than America is now.
Small sound track contributed by Philip Glass (Symphony No. 3).
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on 30 September 2013
Russian screenwriter and director Andrey Zvyagintsev`s third feature film succeeding his award-winning feature film debut "The Return" (2003) and "The Banishment" (2007), was written by Oleg Negin and tells the story about Elena, a former nurse who lives with her wealthy husband Vladimir. The middle-aged couple have a good marriage and when Elena`s unemployed son Sergey and his wife, who lives nearby, needs financial support, Elena asks her husband to help them. Vladimir is not willing to help her son and when he makes his daughter Katya his sole heiress, their relationship turns cold.
This quietly paced and character-driven drama about a woman who wants to help her son from a previous relationship and a father who wants to help his daughter from a previous relationship, emphasizes the basic struggle for love and how this causes mistrust and distances people from one another. With his precise camera movements, gritty milieu depictions and intimate portrayals of family relations, Andrey Zvyagintsev creates great realism, tension and some exceptional scenes of a baby.
This minimalistic study of character is finely photographed by the director`s frequent collaborator Mikail Krichman and has a poignant and remarkable instrumental score which creates an efficiently unpredictable atmosphere and reinforces the concentrated narrative structure. A witty, life-affirming and distinctly directed film with prominent and understated acting performances by Russian actresses Nadezhda Markina and Yelena Lyadova, and Russian actor Andrey Smirnov.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Another outstanding offering from the brilliant Russian director of The Return and The Banishment. A slow-burning family drama, wonderfully acted, superbly filmed, and a devastating indictment of Russian society today (and, in my view, not only Russian). The long scenes of Elena doing housework (shades of de Sica's Umberto D and Akerman's Jeanne Dielman) are quite hypnotic. To my mind, despite only three films, Andrei Zvyagintsev is the finest director working today, alongside Terrence Malick. He has a fourth film under production called Leviathan, so that's something else I shall look forward to.
on 15 July 2015
Amazing movie about how things truly are in Russia. This story has played out thousands of times all over Russia and it is truly a horrifying reality. This film is so very beautifully shot, if you like Russian independent movies, which, in my experience are usually very well done in every way, this one's for you. Especially if you like 'em nice and DARK.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 19 September 2014
Interesting film, a bit slow and laborious but excellent actors, superb picture quality.