Andrei Zvyagintsev, takes his time in letting us know who is who...
Slow-burning, intricately plotted and with something to say, this is chillingly good drama.
Elena is a film of considerable subtlety, yet of equally considerable - but slow burning - power. With no concessions to pace, it builds up or evokes a lot of tension and pressure, while evidently telling us something about the quality of contemporary Russian life in the process.
Director/co-writer, Andrei Zvyagintsev (The Return), takes his time in letting us know who is who in this sad and rather Chekhovian morality tale, and exactly how they relate, both literally and emotionally. Nadezhda Markina is superb in the title role, as a housewife married to a wealthy businessman called Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov). They're in late middle age, and have been together for about a decade. Each has a child from a previous relationship, and both offspring seem seriously parasitic and ungrateful. Money worries rear their ugly heads. Elena's son, Sergei (Aleksey Rozin), is a beery and lazy slob, but it is Sergei's own son, Elena's grandson - and her desperate desire to help him go to college and thus avoid being drafted into the army - who fuels her most fateful decisions.Vladimir's daughter, Katya (Yelena Lyadova), for her part, is a bitter "hedonist" with a swag of bravado and apparently intense feelings of hostility toward both her father and stepmother. (There are a number of affecting and effective scenes, but the one between Katya and Vladimir is the stand-out.) It's a volatile mix, but proceedings never come remotely close to melodrama: the characters are simply far too real for that. As for the plot, suffice to say that it thickens whenVladimir has a heart attack.
Elena (the film itself) shows how people often do terrible things for good reasons - or at least understandable ones. It's a convincing and chilling drama, with thought-provoking dialogue, sparingly used soundtrack music by Philip Glass, and a prevailing air of disturbing believability.