Elena and Vladimir are an older couple, they come from different backgrounds. Vladimir is a wealthy and cold man, Elena comes from a modest milieu and is a docile wife. They have met late in life and each one has children from previous marriages. Elena's son is unemployed, unable to support his own family and he is constantly asking Elena for money. Vladimir's daughter is a careless young woman who has a distant relationship with her father. A heart attack puts Vladimir in hospital, where he realizes that his remaining time is limited. A brief but somehow tender reunion with his daughter leads him to make an important decision: she will be the only heiress of his wealth. Back home he announces it to Elena. Her hopes to financially help her son suddenly vanish. The shy and submissive housewife then comes up with a plan to give her son and grandchildren a real chance in life. Written by
Cannes Film Festival
A masterpiece of social realism combining old and new Russia
I saw this film on DVD and found it absolutely stunning. Apart from the wonderful cinematography, sound and pace, the story was a powerful piece of social realism but also an allegory of old and new Russia - not just post-Soviet Russia, portrayed as displaying the class divisions between the wealthy bourgeoisie and the downcast proletariat, the similarities in modern Russia to the deprivations and petty crime of western capitalism and the unthinking privileged status of the wealthy.
Partly because of the slow pace and the doom-laden symbolism, the elderly man in his elegant home with his servile wife, at the outset I felt a sense of Chekhov. Maybe it was the theme of property and family, of age and inheritance, of a new generation growing up, but I would be interested to know if the director deliberately referenced pre-revolutionary Russia in his film.
The pace enabled the audience to absorb the intense sound that characterised this film as much as the wonderful camera work. Not only the hypnotic music by Philip Glass, but the repeated brief sharp cawings of an uncannily loud rook, the sounds of domestic work, a door slamming, curtains being gently opened... All this built up a great feeling of suspense, almost nail-biting, as we were forced to wait for the outcome of Elena's actions as their consequences yawned in front of us.
The new Russia is clearly reduced to people down on their luck, driven to crime, yet strengthened by family solidarity. The working-class family may be sometimes feckless but there is love among them, and the mother's steely determination to ensure a brighter future for her grandson makes her actions seem not unjustified, in the face of an arrogant husband who treats her as a skivvy and despises her own children and grandchildren. Even though he discovers that he loves his own daughter, their feelings for each other seem to be based on a shared amorality and lack of concern for others.
There is also a dark, ironic and occasionally surreal humour underlying the apparently bleak tone - not just the Viagra, but the woman who keeps getting pregnant, the train delayed by a horse, the Poe-esque crow ...
I have not had the chance to see much Russian cinema but this film has whetted my appetite and I shall be looking out for more, especially by this great film-maker.
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