In a Russian coastal town, Kolya is forced to fight the corrupt mayor when he is told that his house will be demolished. He recruits a lawyer friend to help, but the man's arrival brings further misfortune for Kolya and his family.
Dima Nikitin is an ordinary honest plumber who suddenly decides to face the corrupt system of local politics in order to save the lives of 800 inhabitants of an old dormitory, which is about to collapse.
Georges and Anne are an octogenarian couple. They are cultivated, retired music teachers. Their daughter, also a musician, lives in Britain with her family. One day, Anne has a stroke, and the couple's bond of love is severely tested.
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
Vladimir's profession is never mentioned in the film but Andrey Zvyagintsev and Andrey Smirnov discussed what it could be. They presupposed an elderly rich man from today's Russia could have been a security officer from the KGB, or a functionary of Komsomol (the youth division of the Soviet communist party), or a scientist who went into business after the Soviet Union collapse, and they decided Vladimir should be a scientist because Smirnov didn't look like the other two types. Despite the character's status, Smirnov considered him "an a**hole". See more »
Failed to meet the high standard set by "the return"
As one of the most talented directors in modern cinema, Andrei zvyagintsev was known for his critically acclaimed debut, "the return," which won as many as 20 awards at major film festivals. Many have viewed his second film, "the banishment" as a let-down given the unusually high standard set by his first film. So, many fans of Andrei Zvyaginitsev including myself eagerly waited for his third film, "elena" to come out to see whether this young talented director can overcome his "sophomore jinx." Compared to "the return" in which every second is engaging and serves a purpose, "elena" doesn't quite have the riveting power of the former. I can't pinpoint why, but a few minutes into the movie, my emotion remains unprovoked and numbed. The long, still shots of the interior of the bourgeois house in the city center did not quite convey the sense of alienation that the director intended. As one critic comment, it feels rather claustrophobic. It wasn't until 30 minutes into the movie, the first meaningful, engaging scene appears when the couple starts arguing at the breakfast table about the future of the woman's son. Of course, we have to give credit to the director for not making this film into a superficial family drama and for extending into the social and political context where the portrayal of the stark contrast between the woman's son's dingy, run-down apartment in the shady suburb and the rich man's luxurious condo begs some deep questions. But it seems to me that the director tried to take on too many important issues and lost his focus. The identity and the background of the man's pretty daughter are not adequately explained. Again, one problem of this film seems to mirror that of "the banishment." It suffers from being excessively mysterious and lack of explanation. As usual, the cinematography of this film is beautiful, as his previous films. One shot that is particularly striking is the long shot of the industrial complex under the sunset near the end of film. It is an absolutely beautiful and powerful image. And the subsequent scene where a blackout occurred and the hand-held camera follows a group of violent Russian youth gangs including the woman's own son, in darkness dimly lit by the distant bonfire, is incredibly authentic and powerful. This reminded me of the beginning of the banishment; this is where I think the director excels at, being able to immediately establish a mood with a few simple sequences. Overall, the film "elena" shows flashes of brilliance that resemble the director's debut, "the return," but ultimately it suffers from inadequately developed characters, lack of coherence of scenes and a failure to integrate the different themes it tries to convey.
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