Winner of Cannes' Un Certain Regard Special Jury Prize, Elena is a gripping, modern twist on the classic noir thriller. Sixty-ish spouses Vladimir and Elena uneasily share his palatial Moscow apartment-he's a still-virile, wealthy businessman; she's his dowdy former nurse who has clearly "married up." Estranged from his own wild-child daughter, Vladimir openly despises his wife's freeloading son and family. But when a sudden illness and an unexpected reunion threaten the dutiful housewife's potential inheritance, she must hatch a desperate plan.... Masterfully crafted by award-winning Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev (Golden Globe nominee The Return) and featuring evocative, Hitchcockian music by Philip Glass, Elena is a subtly stylish exploration of crime, punishment and human nature. -- (C) Zeitgeist … More
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Critic Reviews for Elena
A chilly noir about the beaten paths and icy ruts of Russian life in the capital, post-Communism. In a land of schemers, Elena suggests, the urban cloisters of Moscow's elite are as self-sealing as the lowly masses' stifling Soviet-era flats.
Though very Russian, there is an extremely universal story at the heart of this film ...
A perfectly formed drama that gradually takes hold and doesn't let go.
It's very gloomy. It's very Russian. It's as powerful as any picture released this season.
A slow-burning but engrossing drama that takes an intriguingly dark view of the sanctity of family in order to explore the ways in which bad seeds have a habit of flourishing in any environment.
It's a gripping, resonant tale, and Nadezhda Markina is outstanding as Elena, and far more sympathetic than perhaps she should be.
It may seem slow and lugubrious but it draws you into these complex, contradictory lives the way a spider lures a fly into a web.
The mundanity of the everyday is examined, but do you really want to watch someone slowly making a bed?
Zvyagintsev, who made The Return and The Banishment, does a good impression of constructing a world while secretly spinning a web.
A withering admonishment of capitalism and the emotional mindset that comes with.
[An] understated but gripping drama about family ties, about the way that sometimes tensions vie with tenderness in even the closest relationships.
Quietly gripping Russian drama with a thought-provoking script and a captivating central performance from Nadezhda Markina.
Zvyagintsev moves the story with a slow, brooding pace - aided by a somber Philip Glass score - that turns the screws patiently and inexorably toward a shattering conclusion.
Backed by a sparing Philip Glass score, Elena eloquently shows how, in modern Russia, even family relationships are at the mercy of business.
Sturdy performances, fine photography from Mikhail Krichman, good use of music by Philip Glass and a pleasingly terse script make for incisive, gripping drama.
Absorbing but slow-moving family drama taking place in post-Soviet Russia.
Audience Reviews for Elena
An intriguing drama of fascinating moral complexity and ambiguity. Through an elegant direction that makes use of several long takes, it efficiently presents the everyday life of the main character and the drastic choices she decides to make in view of some difficult circumstances.More
'Elena'. A beautifully reserved piece of filmmaking exploring the class divide in modern Moscow.
The direction is meticulous, patient and purposeful, capturing little moments and stunning imagery. A most memorable, simple score does wonders too.
"Elena," third feature film from Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev, is a genuine work of art, but it's not a particularly good one. Zvyagintsev thinks deeply about the human condition and brings a real artistic eye to this story of post-Soviet class formation.
But his minimalist style is underwhelming here. I didn't end up caring about the characters very much. And I think this was because of Zvyagintsev's cold style of direction and minimalist approach to story development.
He strips things to the bone, which heightens the moral issues at play. But it also denudes the film. It strips the human dimension away.
The eponymous main character is a nurse from a lower-class background who ends up marrying a wealthy patient for whom she is caring. Trouble ensues when her feckless grandson needs financial help to get into college and avoid service in the Army. Elena wants her husband to bribe the college admissions counselors. Her rich husband wants to teach the boy a lesson by not rescuing him. Conflict arises. Big time.
I won't tell you how things turn out, but I will say that something gruesome happens.
I love this basic story. I just wish Zvyagintsev was talented enough to bring it alive in a brutally compelling way. But he is not. The film is ultimately quite flat. The minimalism feels more flaccid and diffuse than incisive and penetrating. A disappointment. But it's a real pleasure to see a filmmaker with a global following bringing a serious story like this to the screen. Even when his films don't fully succeed, Zvyagintsev is a far more valuable filmmaker than someone like Tim Burton.
Vladimir(Andrei Smirnov) has been married to Elena(Nadezhda Markina), a former nurse, for the past couple of years. Since he is wealthy, she need not ask for anything material, giving her pension to her unemployed son Sergei(Alexey Rozin), so he can support his family which now includes a newborn child. Actually, there is one thing she can ask him and that is to pay for her grandson Sasha(Igor Ogurtsov) to go to university, so that he does not get drafted and a one way ticket to Ossetia. When Vladimir hesitates, she challenges him by bringing up his wayward daughter Katerina(Yelana Lyadova). Regardless, he says he will think about it.
On the surface, "Elena" has a story that is not dissimilar from any number of movies I could name. What makes the difference here is the skillful filmmaking with its shifting viewpoints in exploring the class differences in modern day Russia and the resultant moral decay. And one could say Elena's slide begins with the small step of lighting a candle for Vladimir in a church whose beliefs she does not share. On the other hand, maybe she does the wrong things for the right reasons except we are never quite clear which brings up some very interesting questions. Is Sergei actively looking for work or is he just lazy? Would Sasha ending up in the army be the worst thing for him? There is one conversation that sheds light on this between Vladimir and Katerina(who I like for this, no matter what else she may have done in her life) where she makes a great case for not having children since she would just screw them up, not make her a better person which many people would have you think. And a lot of that goes to my belief of how selfish being a parent can be which gets nicely reinforced here.
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