Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Screenwriters: Andrey Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin
Runtime: 109 mins
Australian release date: 21 June 2012
Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Elena is a cold, hard look at contemporary Russia. It comes with pretty good cred too. It was the winner of the Un Certain Regard Jury Prize at Cannes in 2011 and garnered nominations for Best Actress at the European Film Awards and Asia Pacific Film Awards for Nadezhda Markina (Elena). And what a wonderful performance! Elena has you sitting on the edge of your seat, mesmerized by her lovely smile and her hidden agenda.
The film opens with a long-shot of a raven sitting on a branch outside an upscale apartment. The camera then moves inside and captures the sun filtering through the windows as the occupants rise to face the day. From then on Mikhail Krichman’s cinematography (he also shot Silent Souls) takes you on a journey across the social divide from a bourgeois neighbourhood into a rundown area on the outskirts of a city that is never identified. It could be any Soviet city, in any part of the country.
Elena and her husband Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov) have a comfortable, if rather formal marriage, which is only marred by their respective disdain for each other’s children from former unions. Vladimir has a spoilt daughter Katerina (Elena Lyadova), who has never had to do anything but receive handouts from her wealthy father. Elena’s son Sergey (Alexey Rozin) and his family are a bunch of reprobates who also do nothing and expect Elena to provide for them. The circumstances may be different but both children are burdens on their parents.
After Vladimir has a small heart attack, everyone jockeys to position themselves in the winning seat should the elderly man die. The only ones who seem to lose out are the elderly couple who hold the balance of their families’ futures. The story follows the familial bond and shows how blood is a whole lot thicker than water when it comes to the crunch. There are scenes which are reminiscent of other family dramas and make for uncomfortable viewing. In some ways this could be a metaphor for modern day Russia, where money has become more accessible for those who had nothing before. The question being - what lengths are taken in its acquisition?
The atmosphere is not unlike a Hitchcock thriller, aided by Phillip Glass’s score which is simply stunning. With solid performances by all the cast, particularly Lyadova and Markina, this is fine Russian drama. If you were bowled over by Silent Souls, then do not miss Elena. The two recent dramas will certainly create some appetite for Russian cinema in the future.