Russian Film Elena Explores Darkness of Human Nature in All of Us
Last night, I attempted to watch 2012 Russian noir film, Elena, by Andrei Zvyagintsev. Do not confuse this with the 2014 release of the documentary of the same name by Petra Costa.
As I had seen neither, I thought I would start with Zvyagintsev's Elena, winner of the 2011 Cannes' Film Festival Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize. I found it at the library, and did not read reviews until after I watched it.
The main characters and background:
Husband and wife, Vladimir and Elena. They have been together for 10 years, but married for two (if I am correct in the details). They met when Elena was Vladimir's nurse when he had been hospitalized. He is a wealthy businessman; she no longer must work. They sleep in separate rooms, though Elena is the "dutiful" wife. Their biggest disagreements are in relationship to her giving money to her son, and Vladimir's refusal to help her son and his family without a commitment on the son's part to do for his family.
Sergey, Tatyana, and Sasha. Sergey is Elena's son, and an unemployed father of several, Sasha being the eldest. He is of age, and equally as hapless a character as his father, not driven enough to complete an education or join the Army. Tatyana is wife to Sergey and mother to Sasha and the rest of the brood, her role being primarily a baby-maker.
Katerina. Vladimir's daughter, estranged from her father. She cares most about her father, where money only is concerned.
Vladimir is openly critical about Elena's free-loading son and family. Elena, as mother and grandmother, regularly gives money to them, that she hides from her husband. Vladimir suffers a sudden illness, and Elena complies with her husband's request to help facilitate the reunion with his daughter, Katerina. This serious illness and Katerina's return now threaten Elena's potential inheritance, and her love and obligation to Sergey and his family. A plan is devised, which challenges sensibility, legality, and her husband's wishes.
Elena was my first Russian film. I found it to be a very dark, slow-moving film, that was designed to draw you into the contradiction and complexity that is human nature. It was rather minimalist, leaving the viewer to analyze the reality, and to confront the inner conflict that all life encounters. The basic premise of the story, and the social challenges between the "haves" and "have nots," was a classic theme that was masterfully explored, this time in Moscow, Russia.
Because of the darkness of the plot, and the slowness in setting the scene and the strategy the director uses for its delivery, is not a film that I would suggest to view if you are either tired, stressed, or otherwise interested in mindless or high-action films.
As well, it is in Russian with English subtitles. For these reasons, I plan on watching it again, when I am more prepared to want to think and can pay better attention to a film that does not force-feed you ideas.
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