Finding dour Russian director Andrey Zvayginstev in a livelier mood, Elena is an exploration of one woman's decision-making and her justification of a terrible crime.
lena (Markina) is a retired nurse who caters to her elderly husband Vladimir (Smirnov). Elena's layabout son from her first marriage is putting her under pressure to borrow money from Vladimir so he can enrol his son, Elena's grandson, into college and avoid the army draft. When Vladimir refuses Elena the money, preferring instead to fund the life his wayward daughter Katya (Lyadova) has become accustomed to, she feels pushed into the only way she knows how to get it…
wasn't looking forward to this one. I had missed The Return, the one movie everyone talks about when it comes to Zvayginstev, and all I had to go on was 2007's ‘The Banishment’, which was a deathly dull exploration in how to test an audience's patience as they watch uninteresting characters do nothing very slowly. Elena's long opening shot of a tree branch didn't quell any fears and, watching Elena wake up, get out of bed, brush her hair, open curtains, make breakfast and get dressed, I started to get twitchy. Here we go again.
ut this is no ‘The Banishment’ as Elena becomes involving. And what's this? Zvayginstev actually moves the camera and gives the characters dialogue? Say it ain’t so. The dynamic between husband and wife is riveting: they sleep in separate bedrooms - he in the marital bed, she in what looks like an upmarket futon - and he orders her about with "make me coffee," and "bring me my things." When she asks him for something, it's like making her case to a judge. Watching how that plays out keeps Elena interesting through its more downbeat moments, of which admittedly there are a few. There are inadvisable tangents too, as Vladimir, Katya and Elena's grandson get their own little vignettes that distract from the story's main thrust.
espite the slow pace, Elena is intriguing stuff and this is a Zvayginstev I can get on board with.