Elena

2012

Elena (2012)

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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

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Critic Reviews for Elena

All Critics (61) | Top Critics (21)

Sturdy performances, fine photography from Mikhail Krichman, good use of music by Philip Glass and a pleasingly terse script make for incisive, gripping drama.

Oct 16, 2012 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…
Time Out
Top Critic

In different hands, "Elena" might have been a noir thriller, but this serving of cinematic borscht is as cold as a Russian winter.

Aug 10, 2012 | Rating: 2/4 | Full Review…

"Elena" is a riveting psychological suspense film.

Jul 19, 2012 | Rating: 4/4 | Full Review…

A quiet, subtle mystery whose long, penetrating takes have drawn comparisons to Andrei Tarkovsky and whose mordantly ironic conclusion may remind you of Claude Chabrol.

Jul 13, 2012 | Full Review…

Zvyaginstsev makes the most of the ghastly settings, which include a backyard that ominously features nuclear cones - and the kinds of compartmentalized living spaces that Hitchcock used for droll effect in "Rear Window."

Jul 12, 2012 | Rating: 3/4

It's a sort of slow-boil Russian noir, if that genre exists, and if it doesn't, it does now.

Jul 12, 2012 | Rating: 4/5 | Full Review…

Audience Reviews for Elena

An intriguing drama of fascinating moral complexity and ambiguity, with an elegant direction that makes use of several long takes to show us the everyday life of its main character and the drastic choices that she decides to make in view of some hard circumstances.

Carlos Magalhães
Carlos Magalhães

Super Reviewer

'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.

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Super Reviewer

"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.

William Dunmyer
William Dunmyer

Super Reviewer

½

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.

Walter M.
Walter M.

Super Reviewer

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