NNarrative Feature Competition
ElenaOriginal Title: Elena
Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Russia | Russian
Subtitles: Arabic and English
A middle-aged woman goes about her morning routine in a luxury apartment, waking a man sleeping in another room and making him breakfast. Not until they speak to each other is it clear that she is not the live-in housekeeper. In fact, Elena (Nadezhda Markina) is the second wife of the wealthy Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov). In this masterfully understated opening sequence, director Andrey Zvyagintsev offers a telling first glimpse of the tension underpinning Elena
Elena and Vladimir are from distinctly different segments of society, as is reflected in perfectly contrasted scenes of their sorties from home: Elena takes the train to the poorer suburbs to visit her jobless son, while Vladimir drives his luxury car to an upscale gym. When a heart attack prompts Vladimir to consider his will, Elena realizes that his money might go to his daughter from a previous marriage. Facing the prospect of having nothing to support her own son, Elena’s subservience gives way to desperation as she confronts choosing her own family over the man she has married.
Tracing the class divide in contemporary Russia through this uneasy marriage, Zvyagintsev’s third feature is an unsettling exploration of personal and social interactions conducted like murky financial transactions. Outstanding performances ground the film’s larger themes in the affecting struggles of characters who feel true to life –and whose decisions are consequently all the more chilling. A score by Philip Glass accentuates the emotional tenor of the film, which features an excellent script and superb cinematography. With Elena
, one of the most critically lauded titles of the year, Zvyagintsev has emerged as one of Russia’s most important contemporary directors, fulfilling the promise of his debut The Return
(2003), which took the top prize at the Venice Film Festival.