Film Review: ELENA

Directed by Andrei Zwagintsev and Liorent Barajas
Written by Oleg Negin, Martin Barajas Llorent
Starring Nadezhda Markina, Andrey Smirnov, Alexey Rozin, Yelena Lyadova

Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes, it is hard to imagine a more cynical look at life in Russia than Elena. And yet, it is not set among the criminal population as many of Russia’s recent movies have been.

PLOT-Elena (Markina) is the recent middle-aged wife of the wealthy and elderly, Vladimir (Smirnov) who early on suffers a heart attack. She met him years earlier when she was his nurse, and she continues to be his nurse, his housekeeper, his sparring partner, and sometimes his lover. Both Vladimir and Elena have parasitical children (Rozin and Lyadova) whose demands for support cause strife between the couple. Elena, especially, is devoted to her son and his family. They seem to live in waiting for her next contribution to the family coffers.

When Vladimir has a reunion of sorts with his daughter, he indicates that the eventual disposition of his estate will reflect this newly improved relationship. Elena decides she must act to save her family and herself from being forced into a life of penury.

Elena is noir at its blackest. It takes its time with the story, showing what these lives are like, never allowing any character much room to engender our sympathy. The motivations of each are simple and lucid. If you need to have a character to root for in a story, this is not the film for you. If you want to see an interesting portrayal of modern Russia and the sort of characters the society has produced, this might be the movie to pick. Highly recommended for those who like noir.

Be sure to stop by to check out Forgotten Books every Friday as well as other thoughts, comments and reviews. A collection of her stories, Monkey Justice (Snubnose Press) can be found on Amazon