Elena (2011) Poster

(2011)

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10/10
Great, Great Zvyagintsev again !
peppyaiolov23 December 2011
Warning: Spoilers
First I'd like to say that I really understand the point of all disappointed Zvyagintsev fans after his two previous films:Izgnanie and Vozvrashchenie .These movies were "global", not only Russian, but "for all people".

This movie is strictly Russian and thats why people did'n like it. In my opinion this movie shows the real greatness of this wonderful director Andrey Zvyagintsev. He could continue making "global" movies "for the world". like Iñárritu or for the end of it like LvT, but he is a Russian and he made film about the moral situation in Russia.

In 2009 Zvyagintsev was offered 8 million $ from producer Oliver Dungey to make a film for the end of the world like "The Sacrifice"1986 .I guess that LvT took the money and did "Melancholia".Instead Zvyagintsev did "Elena", and this is the end of the world for him: "the end of the world as we know it" as Charles Foster Kane is saying."Elena' is the end of the "moral world" as we know it, at least for Zvyagintsev.

This film is about existential values, no other values exist in post-communist, pseudo-religious Russia.There are only TV values.We can only hear the "TV preachings" throughout the movie and actually see the screen just at the end when the family stays at the apartment of the killed man.So what happens: A rich man is killed by his wife who is a former nurse, because he do not to put her in his will and the family of her unemployed son with three kids will stay without support.

"The last will be first." says Elena just before to kill in cold blood his husband. The mother will do everything for her child and grandchildren. Love is evil,like Zizek says.In the name of love ,millions of people has been killed.The love towards one is hatred towards somebody else.The main principle in universe is scarcity, Sartr says.There isn't enough love nor yet enough money for everyone.So what we people do? We kill.We kill for money,we kill for love ...we kill for oil!" A time to kill and a time to heal. A time to tear down and a time to build up." like they say in the Bible.

This movie is a mixture of "The Shop on Main Street"1965, "Crimes and Misdemeanors"1989, "Uzak" 2002 and "Cargo 200" 2007 so before to judge "Elena" please watch these movies first.

I think that "Elena"it is a real 21-st century film.It is film about "The banality of evil". Evil which is part of us all, the evil of everyday life. It is an open question of the moral values of the contemporary society. The question is coming from Russia and from all the former communist countries : How to live now ,when the "evil empire" of communism is dead. Where is the moral superiority of the capitalism? In the "world with TV Religion" is it OK to kill an old and ill man and to take the money in the name of children?

GREAT GREAT FILM.THANK YOU ZVYAGINTSEV.
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8/10
Well done worth seeing.
nikkd16 September 2015
Most of the complaints about the movie fail to realize that sometimes, in more artistic works time, lighting, limited dialogue are used to create a mood. This move had a very interesting message, and in order to demonstrate the predicament that Elena is in. I could relate to her and how she felt that she was used and that her step daughter takes things for granted. While Elena is a very modest women who is looking out for the best interests of those around her.

I did enjoy the film, and as with most foreign films I enjoy the lighting the music and the overall feel. This goes a long way in order to transport us to another time and place. I actually felt for Elena right from the start of the film.

You must see in order to understand but I hope you get as much as I got out of it.
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7/10
An interesting comment in post-socialistic Russia
denpolites26 December 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I read all the comments and I think that the majority of them just missed the point. I think that we have an interesting glance on the life in post-socialistic Russia. A friend from Bulgary wrote a few things about that. I would like to add that the main point is that a woman who looks good and carrying about her son and her family, and despite she is religious, is driven to crime, as the only way to help her unemployed son. What made that possible? The great fortunes that have been accumulated, something not seen during the soviet era (at least legally), in contrast with the poverty, unemployment etc.

Others points: the necessity to have money in order to study. The new lifestyle of drugs and spoiled daughter. The role of TV, showing garbage all the time.Tthe unemployed son who doesn't make an effort to find a job (obviously been spoiled by the previous regime where there you didn't need to struggle in order to have a job, it was offered easily). The new 'fashion' of gangs and the lethal encounters they indulged in.

Russia underwent a real shock all these years, just imagine that is one of the countries that had decreased limit of expected life by 5 years!

The acting and the directing was good enough. In general an interesting film, not a masterpiece, but worth seeing.
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10/10
Fascinating ambiguity
es_dp1 February 2012
This movie is great, slow but beautiful, but the ambiguity is the best part, all the themes are condensed in the first and final frame, think about it, what is worth? the welfare of many aside his flaws or the coldness and sterility of few.

The atmosphere is hypnotic.

All the characters have reasonable grounds, all are ugly but very real.

The synthesis to show the decadence and disillusionment of Russian youth is strong

the performances are outstanding overhanging the main female character which we do not know if understand or condemn and even though the couple has some reason the mother instinct is prevalent, is simply a game of survival.
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9/10
Crime and no punishment, or????
sergepesic6 April 2014
After Zvyagintsev's first movie, "The Return", I desperately wanted to see more of his work. He made another movie that I couldn't find, and finally- "Elena". New Russia, few new rich, and not so new, many poor. The land of fake equality became a land of stunning disparity. And the same kind of ruthless, lacking conscience kind of person that thrived in communism, does ever so well in the pool of greed and self-absorption. It was always about money and power, anyway. Cruel world and cruel deeds. What would one do for those he or she loves, no matter how undeserving they are. Apparently everything, even kill. Human capacity for evil surpasses very few things, and the ability to justify evil tops everything else. Hence the world we live in. Very simple actually, but still beyond comprehension of billions.
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9/10
Spellbinding Russian Drama
larrys317 December 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I found this Russian drama, impeccably directed by Andrey Zyagintsev, to be spellbinding and powerful. Zyagintsev has an amazing way of producing a constant tension, even when the most mundane acts of daily living are being carried out.

Nadezhna Markina is pitch perfect as Elena, a retired nurse, who is now married to the wealthy Vladimir(superbly portrayed by Andrey Smirnov). They live in a beautiful apartment is Moscow. Although they are only married two years, their relationship apparently began ten years before when Elena was Vladimir's nurse in the hospital.

However, Elena's son Sergei, his wife Tanya, their older son Sasha, and a baby boy live "on the other side of the tracks" in a run down area. Each month, against Vlkadimir's wishes Elena collects her pension and takes a train and a bus to visit her family and give them money to help support them. Vladimir thinks that Sergei is an idler and is also not happy that Sergei has not returned a loan from three years back.

Elena has asked her husband to help her grandson Sasha bribe his way into a university, so that he doesn't have to serve in the Army. When Vladimir expresses his reluctance Elena points out that he has no qualms about supporting his daughter who is bitter, ungrateful, and irresponsible. This, of course, causes all kinds of friction between Vladimir and Elena, although overall they seem to have a loving relationship.

One day, Vladimir suffers a heart attack while swimming in the gym. He is eventually released and starts recovering at home with Elena acting as his nurse.

He tells her that he's meeting with his attorney the following day to draw up a will. He will leave the bulk of his estate to his daughter but that Elena will receive a generous monthly annuity. He also tells her that he's made a final decision and will not help her grandson financially.

This sets off a series of events which if I disclosed would be complete spoilers. Let's just say the events take a dark turn and Zyagintsev handles it masterfully. I was riveted to the screen. With the powerful musical score in the background, the tension in the final parts of the film is maintained extremely well.

I would highly recommend this movie to those that enjoy foreign dramas with a cohesive and strong storyline.
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8/10
Don't give up on this film
susanbeach115 February 2012
Warning: Spoilers
Yes, this is slow-moving but it is such an accurate portrayal of post-Soviet life in today's Russia that you overlook the lack of a lot of action to focus on the characters and the milieu in which they live. We have it all here -- an oligarch, an indulged son due to an indulgent mother, the haves and the have-nots. Maybe I appreciated it more than the average viewer because I have lived in Eastern Europe and am familiar with post-Soviet Russian culture. While the oligarch lives in a beautiful flat and drives a luxury car to his trendy gym, the worker bees (or should I say non-worker bees) live in a prototypical dilapidated housing block and walk miles to the train. A ne'er do well adolescent takes out his sense of hopelessness on those below even him on the socio-economic ladder. Raskolnikov lives!!
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10/10
Nearing perfection; a masterful depiction of a universal trait
Turin_Horse17 November 2014
Warning: Spoilers
This is one of the most perfect, "round", films I have seen in many years. Nothing is out of place, every scene has a deep meaning in the plot. And the overall result is nearly perfect, with a clear-cut conclusion.

Many have understood this film as a criticism/description of current Russian society. And they are not mistaken at all, it is true. But there is more to it, much more: a universal trait, one that I have never seen depicted previously on film with such precision and cleverness. The central topic of the film can be enunciated by the saying "Blood is thicker than water". Some previous reviewers have aptly pointed out this too.

The plot is entirely constructed to come to this final conclusion. In the meantime we are also shown aspects of current Russian society, such as violence and lack of values in adolescents, strained family relations between the old and new Russian generations (with marked differences in life values), the lavish but often solitary life of old men who have amassed large amounts of money...

But the central point is the relation of Elena with, on the one hand, her aged affluent husband, who provides her with a very comfortable life that most women her age would be delighted and satisfied with, and on the other hand with her son (and son's family) from a previous marriage, her "real" family in terms of blood ties. Her son is an absolute opposite to her husband: mediocrity vs. intelligence, weak character vs. determination and strength, idleness vs. diligence, failure vs. success, poverty vs. richness. One can easily come to the conclusion that her son fully deserves the misery he and his family live in. Elena helps her son and daughter-in-law on her husband's resources, but when he says "enough!"... conflict ensues, and here is when blood imposes its biological determining force.

The final scene of the film, with the little grandson of Elena lying carelessly and comfortably on her husband's bed is at once tender and haunting! one of the best ends I've ever seen in cinema. Now join the opening scene with the final one, and you close the circle, the whole film is contained there.

Don't miss it, this is a film you will not forget. It will become a classic, for me it is one of them already. The best Zvyagintsev's film so far, The Return and Leviathan being both highly recommended too.
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8/10
Thought provoking movie, from the Big Bear.
RatedVforVinny2 January 2019
Sometimes downbeat but often a thought provoking Russian picture; concerning the central character (Elena) and her troubled family life. The issues and choices she has to both endure and subsequently execute, become the crux of the story. the immoral conclusion (incredibly) seems to be the most reasonable outcome and as blood is thicker than water, the ending deed seems as natural as it could ever possibly be. such slow burning tension comes as a welcome relief to the predictable crash, bang, wallop offered at the local multiplex. 'Elena' is actually a high quality thriller of an entirely different pace and it's a classic case of more drama, less action.
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One of the finest social-realism dramas of the year. An understated beauty of Russian cinema!
octopusluke3 December 2012
We're soon approaching the end of 2012. What a fabulous year for films, ey? Whilst I'm holding off completing my 'Top Movies of 2012′ until Christmas time, I'm rapidly trying to cram in all of those movies I've been desperate to see this year but, for some silly reason or another, have failed to get around to. Elena is such a film. The third feature from Russian modern master Andrey Zvyagintsev (The Return, The Banishment), it's a frosty, portentous, and oddly beautiful depiction of conflict between contemporary Moscow's bourgeoisie and the humble underclass.

Nadezhda Markina plays the title character Elena, a sixty-something, former state nurse turned docile housewife to the wealthy Russian aristocrat Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov). They met late in life when Elena was once caring for Vladimir in a hospital bed, and started up an unlikely kinship. Whether it was a bond formed out of compromise or compassion is unsure, but now, ten years on, their stale, loveless marriage is nothing more than a formality.

Elena spends her days travelling by tram, train and bus to to visit her unemployed son from a previous marriage, Sergei (Andrei Smirnov). Living in the Projects and overlooking a disused power plant from the old communist days, he depends on his mother to support his family, and gets supplements from her pension money, and sly payments from Vladimir's estate.

Vladimir's relationship with his daughter Katya is initially far more hostile, but just as parasitic. Begrudgingly labelling her as a hedonist, the concerned father has cut off any contact with Katya, happy to transfer monthly payments into her bank account, but not willing to start up a paternal bond. After a heart attack puts Vladimir in hospital, Elena hatches a despicable plan to give her grandson enough money to put him through university; a prevention from the harsh life in the Russian underclass.

With deliberately slow pacing, long takes and a muted, quasi-apocalyptic colour palette, when it featured at Cannes this year, comparisons with prodigious Russian auteur were aplenty. But aside from these niggling aspects, Zvyagintsev is working within his own social-realism vein; taking the conventions of melodrama and reconfiguring them into an abstemious framework. He manages to present a quintessentially Russian cultural divide, but make it universally engaging and cinematic through some incredible performers across the board. Markina is astonishing in the lead. A taciturn character, she uses expression and lost glances to perfectly encapsulate the neglected wife-turned-carer, who is on the brink of depression and mania.

The finest moment of the entire movie doesn't even include our leading lady. Sitting in a private hospital bed, Vladimir's first and only encounter with daughter Katya is unnerving yet deeply poignant. Making up for lost time, they share awkward, short exchanges at first, before the emotions soon come flooding to the surface and the pair are sharing smiles and tears of joy, unbeknownst to them, for the last time.

The glacial cinematography from Mikhail Krichman, along with a pitch-perfect score from New York's Philip Glass, make Elena a film of remarkable, modest beauty. Give it a few years to mature, and we'll soon be heralding it as a modern masterpiece of some new European cinema movement. What movement? That's up for talented director Andrey Zvyagintsev to decide.

Read more reviews at http://www.366movies.com
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9/10
Not a Good Respite after Viewing The Borgias
george-bazhenov-12 October 2011
I watched six episodes of The Borgias (Season 1) in as many days and decided that I needed a break so I turned patriotic and went to the nearest cineplex to watch Elena. Not a good idea although I returned to The Borgias happier than I had left them - Episode 7 looked like a light comedy compared to Elena.

The best part of the film was the acting by Andrey Smirnov (Vladimir) and Nadezhda Markina (Elena). Actors who play their children are also very talented. The director uses long shots without single edit quite liberally and it creates almost unbearable suspense.

I would recommend this film to anyone who can stomach watching slow-moving horror. It is a scandal that the Russian National Academy of Motion Picture Arts did not nominate Elena for Oscar. The film is brilliant although it does not provide a good respite for watching The Borgias.
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7/10
Well made but not the most interesting of movies.
Boba_Fett113815 May 2012
This is the sort of movie that will do well at film festivals and with certain critics but for me it's all a bit too familiar, though there is simply no denying that this still remains a very well made movie.

Kind of funny but while watching this movie it kept reminding me of a different Russian movie that I had seen; "Vozvrashchenie". I only found out later that the movie indeed had been directed by the same director; Andrei Zvyagintsev. So he obviously is a person with a very strong and distinctive style but yet I wasn't as intrigued with this movie as I was was with "Vozvrashchenie".

It's a movie that shows how one event can change everything in a family. That is good all but it's not exactly something that has never been done in any movie before. I did wish that the movie would had done some more interesting stuff at times with its story and characters but it instead makes the choice to be a simplistic and straightforward as possible, which adds to the realism perhaps but not to the originality and it doesn't make this the most interesting or effective genre example either.

The movie definitely takes the time to setup things but it feels a bit pointless at times. Really, the movie too often is showing you absolutely nothing and some sequences are needlessly long. The movie wants you to fill in things for yourself mostly and doesn't just lay out everything. It's the reason why the movie also often has no dialog at all in it. The first part and the final part of the movie is like this. It seemed like things were developing- and starting to get interesting in the middle but it doesn't ever push through.

Still I can't be very negative toward this movie. It's obviously a superior made movie, that is beautiful looking as well, with its cinematography, that helps to set up a nice mood for the movie. Also nothing wrong with its storytelling. I mean, it does what it does well, even though it just isn't my cup of tea and it really isn't the best, most original, or intriguing example of the genre that I have ever seen. It's great to watch still, if you are into these type of movies.

A really good movie, you can still real easily do without though and is hardly the best that the genre currently has to offer.

7/10

http://bobafett1138.blogspot.com/
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7/10
Failed to meet the high standard set by "the return"
slowboatmo10 October 2011
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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10/10
A masterpiece of social realism combining old and new Russia
Earwicker223 March 2013
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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6/10
that's it?
fedaykin66614 May 2012
The beautiful camera-work is not enough to redeem this utterly banal and empty story. The underlying message raises the old question of utilitarianism: is the happiness of the many more important than the wealth of a few? This is as deep as it gets and disappointment awaits at the end - is that all?

The main character's motivations are not entirely convincing. The only interesting character is the rich man's rebellious daughter. The rest are pawns in a mundane play full of tediously and pointlessly protracted scenes of everyday life.

Philip Glass returns with his equally banal and repetitive music, a five-minute repetition of one short motif.
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10/10
great visuals AND very relevant to these times
chuck-52628 July 2012
Warning: Spoilers
I find "Elena" to be a masterpiece, and am a bit taken aback that it's not in wider distribution in the U.S. It has aspects of film noir, psychological thrillers, and tales of city life ...yet it can't be pigeon-holed into any of these genres.

The one obvious difference with U.S. styles, and the one that may doom "Elena" to niche audiences, is the lack of any resolution, or even a clear ending. That alone may make it "art-house" rather than "mainstream".

There are plenty of very long, slow takes, many of them medium distance. The camera tracks, dollies, and becomes hand-held as necessary, and there are long shots and even a few closeups, but the long slow medium shots predominate. I was reminded very much of "The Return". Once again, some things are never explained, for example the arithmetic suggests an 8-year affair before marriage, yet the couple sleep in separate beds. In one sense shots are of mundane things, but in another sense they're a bit unusual and visually exquisite. The style is somewhat reminiscent of Tarkovsky, but a little more ordinary and less mystical.

The characters' psychology --which is key-- is shown through their interactions with their surroundings and with other people, rather than through closeups of faces. Whenever sophisticated, very complex feelings are portrayed through dialog, fortunately the subtitles keep up and allow the viewer to get into what's really going on. For example the dialog where the father and his estranged daughter bond over their shared "badness" sounds unrealistically harebrained, but is quite believable when you see and read it.

Especially with the sound track (quite a bit of the music is by Philip Glass), there's a slight sense of foreboding or suspense throughout. However the tiny bit of actual violence that does occur comes at a completely unexpected time, and at first doesn't even seem related to the main story line. The film plays with --even makes a joke of-- the conventions of film noir. For example when a character feels guilty about the crime, the lights literally go dark (because of an electric power shutoff).

I found the Russian setting comfortably familiar, more familiar to my U.S. eyes than many European movie settings. Some things (a different brand of single serving coffee maker, a see-through electric hot water pot) were a little different, but many things were similar. At one point Elena takes a thick book down from the top shelf and opens it and I saw lots of Cyrillic characters and no subtitles and thought "uh-oh, I'm going to get lost here". But it quickly became clear the book was the Russian version of the PDR (Physicians Desktop Reference), the book that describes all current drugs and their side effects and interactions in great detail. Even a drug box contained a sheet of fine print with detailed information about the drug, virtually identical to what I've seen here.

The themes are very modern, and very apropos to the U.S. Very large disparities of wealth are shown, even within one family. (The "wealthy" apartment is even nicer than anything I've seen here, with all the cupboard doors and even the refrigerator door and dishwasher door painted to look like matching rough-cut slabs of a big log.) Quite a bit of self-destructive behavior is shown ...but it's not clear there's really any opportunity for different behaviors anyway. Money is king, both in the sense of some individuals being "greedy" (one can almost sense Ebenezer Scrooge in the background), and in the sense that family money makes such a big difference in the environment it's a major determinant of the children's' personalities. (One gets the obvious sense some "juvenile delinquent" behavior would never have occurred if the opportunities in the "wealthy" neighborhood had been offered.) Money can even buy one's way out of the military and into college (even without good grades). Many of the younger generation are to some extent excluded from society and the economy; in fact a few are excluded completely (not just to some extent). And society often just doesn't have a place for the next generation; one can't imagine some of these characters giving their place to their children.

The camera's insistent emphasis on a photo of what seems to be the younger Elena looking eager to experience the world back then underlines the vast difference with how things have turned out for her, and thus the point that the society is just plain dysfunctional.
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8/10
The law of self-preservation
nqure6 January 2014
Warning: Spoilers
I watched Zvyagintsev's first film 'The Return', but have to admit I much preferred this, his third film, finding it more accessible but still a subtle piece of work.

I viewed the film as a comment on contemporary Russia, a character study/ portrait of a morganatic marriage as well as a wider comment on society, & the dark side of both the working/upper (moneyed) classes.

At the beginning of the film, Elena has already made an accommodation and personal sacrifice in her marriage/relationship with an older richer man, Vladimir, where she is nothing more than a glorified drudge. She appears a docile, a dutiful wife and mother, her caring nature exploited by a feckless son and then subject to the caprices of her husband who calls the (economic) shots, but as the film unfolds, she becomes far a more complex figure and we view her & her acts with ambivalence, and more with an element of sympathy than horror.

This is a film where lines reverberate or provide an ironic comment on the story. For instance, feckless Sergei gets distracted playing a computer game with his son, Sasha, as he tries to help him 'get to the next level', a comment, you feel, more about how to get on in Russian society (and perhaps not just Russia but beyond, too). The contrasts are slowly built up scene by scene: the luxurious, spacious flat with a giant modern flat screen TV in contrast to the cramped flat lying on the fringes in the shadow of a disused power station (a metaphor for the powerless underclass left behind by post-communist Russia); Elena has to travel by foot & public transport whilst Vladimir travels to his exclusive gym in a luxurious car; and the contrast between the 'dowdy' Elena and stylish Katya.

The entry of Vladimir's daughter, Katya, changes the dynamic of the film and provides a fascinating counter-point to Elena. It is almost as if two different Russias, one modern, cold & cynical meets its older, more traditional counter-part with the younger & older woman barely lacking anything in common. Or so we think on first impression. Katya is a spoilt hedonist, existential in attitudes such as a lack in interest in motherhood and continuing 'the disease'. She connects intellectually with her father in a way that he never does with his social inferior,Elena, and this is because, as one perceptive reviewer pointed out, both share a similar sense of detachment and lack of feeling for others. Again, Katya utters a line which acquires significance as the film unfolds. During a moment of reconciliation with her father, a man she doesn't give a damn for, Katya remembers the childhood games that 'taught her the harsh realities about being an adult'.

But it is Elena who must learn the dark lesson about what she must do to survive the game ('the last will be first') , the law of self-preservation, and how good people are sometimes forced to do bad things to survive & damn themselves - contrast the scene in the church lighting a candle with the flaming basket, spouting hellfire, as Elena burns her husband's draft will - in order to protect their loved ones in an unequal society.

I'm not sure about viewing the film as a condemnation of the Russian male & the lack of a good male role model. What about Putin? isn't he an alpha male who rules the country in a 21st century manner but a continuation of a one thousand years of authoritarian rule albeit now in the media age of TV shows providing in-depth reviews on sausages (contrast with the sale of reading matter on the train, the Russians are known as a nation of voracious readers). And Katerina, in her own way, is just as feckless as her male working class parallel, Sergei. Both drink, are indifferent towards their parents & selfish. No, I see the film as about how Russia has lost its moral compass (with Ukraine now in the role as Elena with Vladimir/Putin supplying cash & oil if the Ukraine obliges for an occasional bit of rumpy pumpy).

If the people at the top are corrupt, and Vladimir 'uses' Elena sexually, so then must those at the bottom if they are to survive. A bleak message but an honest one. What was that old Marx said about religion being 'the opium of the people'? It's misquoted because Marx did not disapprove of the religious impulse, because he saw it as 'the sigh of the oppressed creature in a heartless world.' And that's what Elena has to become, heartless, to survive, because you have to live on this earth.
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10/10
A tale of two terrible children
Red-1251 September 2018
The Russian film Elena (2011) was co-written and directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev.

Elena (portrayed by Nadezhda Markina) is a nurse who has married a very wealthy man. (That marriage makes sense, in that an older wealthy man might decide to marry someone who could care for him as he aged.) Elena is a decent woman, very respectful of her husband. Actually, she's more like a nurse than a wife, but she appears happy enough, and so does her husband. Her husband, Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov), expects to be waited upon by Elena. When Elena waits upon him, he's happy.

The point of friction between them is Elena's son Sergey and her grandson, Sasha. (This part is a little confusing, because Sasha looks as if he's 18, and Sergey looks as if he's 30. Of course, Sasha might have been conceived when his parents were adolescents.)

In any event, Sasha is a punk, and his father isn't much better. The only way to get Sasha into college--an important quest--is to bribe the admissions officials. For this they need money, and the only possible source of money is from Vladimir. Vladimir refuses to provide the money.

Vladimir dotes upon his beautiful daughter Katerina, although she is heartless and selfish. In fact, when they meet, she blames him for her life style, because he "spoiled her rotten." Vladimir knows what she is, but he's charmed by her beauty, her intellect, and her overtly selfish attitude.

The plot begins when we learn all these facts, either through dialog or observation. What happens next is fascinating, and unpredictable.

This movie was shown in 35mm in Rochester's excellent Dryden Theatre at the George Eastman Museum. The Dryden showed three film by Zvyagintsev on three consecutive Wednesdays. This is superb programming, and the Dryden staff deserve praise for allowing us to enjoy these movies from a brilliant director.

This movie will work very well on the small screen. It has a good IMDb rating of 7.3. I think it's even better than that.

P.S. If you're interested, I've reviewed another of Zvyagintsev's films--"The Banishment."
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9/10
contemporary bleakness
lee_eisenberg16 January 2017
Andrey Zvyagintsev's "Elena" is a not a pretty picture of modern Russia. One can see a stark contrast between the life of affluent life that the protagonist and her husband lead and the miserable life that her son leads. The gang that beats up a homeless man adds to the dismal factor. It's no accident that Elena does what she does towards the end.

Many of the shots last a couple of minutes each, creating a sense of realism. By all accounts, most of the characters see no future. Like Zvyagintsev's previous movie "The Return", it's a focus on a grim, unforgiving world (his more recent "Leviathan" focused on the same sort of topic but also incorporated corruption in the story). The residences alone show the difference: Elena and Vladimir live in a swanky loft, while her son lives in a crumbling apartment building (one of those Khrushchev-era edifices that had design problems from the start).

I recommend the movie. Along with the main plot, it poses the question: can Russia ever see a future?
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9/10
Most missed the point about this movie
adventurer_ci10 August 2013
After reading reviews I realized that a lot is lost in translation.This movie is not about rich/poor contrast-nothing new here. This movie is about a role Russian women play in disappearance of Russia, degradation of its male species. It is about enabling dependency and calling it love. When you believe another needs your help and you sure up their weakness with your strength, you helped them not. This movie is about inability to understand that by helping others you dis-empower and make them dependable on you. It is typical and normal for a Russian mother to see herself as a servant to her husband and children. More often than not they continue carrying a sense of obligation to support their "good for nothing" grown up children. They are unable to see and understand that their children are the product of screwed up upbringing where sense of entitlement dominates. This movie is about degradation of Russian males as species,which is a direct consequence of screwed up approach to raising them. Their mothers are at fault, but unable to understand that. I am not sure if viewers, other than Russian, understood the scene after the lights got out. It demonstrated Russian males at its core- garbage of civilization - narcissistic, touchy, cowardly parasites; most vile, the most disgusting and the most useless type of man on earth. Most are sociopaths and drunks. Generation after generation of Russian males are being raised without a good male model.

Vladimir sees that. He is however facing consequences of his own mistakes of raising his own child. Elena is not meek and submissive as many see her- while her life seem dull and boring, she is content is serving her husband. Sasha, the grandson, is following his father's steps-drinking, playing videogames and fighting. No sense of purpose or direction. He has no desire to go to college. College is the way to avoid an army. Neither son nor grandson feel appreciation for mother's handouts. All is taken for granted. People were not sure what she was reading about in a book she pulled from a shelf-she was reading about side effects of Viagra. "dilapidated housing block"- as one reviewer mentioned- is not really dilapidated- it is typical and normal by Russian standards. Nothing in this movie without a purpose. But it is hard to understand unless you are born and raised in Russia. Russia is disappearing. Women leave the country to marry foreign men. New rich, while technically Russian, reside mostly abroad. The brightest and mightest males find their way out of the country. What is left-is not a pretty picture.
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7/10
Russian class
paul2001sw-116 January 2014
Andrey Zvyagintsev 's 'The Return' is my favourite film to date of the 21st century. 'Elena', a personal drama that illuminates the class structure in contemporary Russia, is not quite so powerful – it's very slow, and the ambiguity of motive that drove the earlier film is not there. And on first viewing it wasn't clear to me whether the shocking but strangely ambivalent ending is a work of genius or the sign of a film that has lost its focus. Still, the director's ability to construct haunting, unexpected images has not deserted him; some scenes reminded me of Keislowski in his Polish phase, just about the highest praise I can give.
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8/10
What Family Doesn't Have Its Ups And Downs
georgep534 June 2012
Warning: Spoilers
In the Hitchcock classic "Rear Window" wheelchair bound Jeff Jeffries fills his idle time by peering through a window at his neighbors across the courtyard. In Andrei Zvyagintsev's "Elena" we're the ones peering through the window of an upscale apartment complex into the lives of Elena and Vladimir who've have been married for 10 years. Those years haven't been particularly kind to Elena a former nurse who's settled into a life of loveless domesticity with her well-to-do husband. She has a married son, Sergei, who hasn't amounted to much and is content to live off his mothers' pension. Vladimir has a nihilist daughter who hasn't amounted to much either but whereas he tends to gloss over her dysfunctional behavior he is unreservedly harsh in his assessment of Sergei. His relationship with Elena becomes severely strained by his reluctance to help Sergei or his delinquent, teenage son who'll be forced to enter the army unless he can get into a college. Highlighted by a strong performance by Nadezhda Markina in the title role, "Elena" is a pretty suspenseful tale told with stunning realism. It's also a thoroughly engrossing portrait of alienation: marital, societal and generational.
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8/10
Story and Characters very believable
rome1-595-39025114 August 2014
Warning: Spoilers
A rich older man Vladamir married to a middle aged woman Elena has a heart attack and reveals he is going to leave everything to his unsympathetic daughter. He has refused to help Elena's family. Elena alters fate in her favor.

In a movie like this character development is everything and the actors in this movie carry it off flawlessly. Vladamir and Elena are both very believable. Elena is not only believable but a sympathetic character and you are glad she does what she does.

If a movies success is measured by is the plot believable and do you care about the characters and will you remember them...this movie succeeds beautifully. In addition the whole atmosphere was spot on. I can still picture Elena's sort of worthless son and his family enjoying the luxuries of the new apartment.

RECOMMEND
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10/10
Devastating film from a brilliant director
alan_pavelin18 August 2013
A third brilliant film by this brilliant director. For me, Andrei Zvyagintsev cannot put a foot wrong, and the only living director to rival him is Terrence Malick. This slow burning and powerful domestic drama is a devastating indictment of Russia today (and not just Russia of course). Elena is a long-suffering and basically good woman who allows herself to become corrupted by the selfishness of those around her, and pays the price right at the end. The long scenes of Elena doing housework (shades of Umberto D and Jeanne Dielman) may seem irrelevant to some, but they are in fact essential to the story. Everyone should see this film, just as they should see his previous two, The Return and The Banishment.
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8/10
Tense drama!
starman_vagabond30 July 2013
The third installment from Andrewi Zvyagintsev (after his success in Banishment and The return) had brought the audience back from a rural environment to a contemporary upper class city story. Yet, the coldness and alienation remains, if not become crueler than ever. Philip Grass's trademark minimalistic music score, tidy cinematography from Mikhail Krichman (partnering with Zvyagintsev since the return) had certainly helped to create this tight but yet claustrophobic atmosphere.

The story unfolded with a routine yet mundane relationship of an elderly couple , lonesome and confine from one another to the point that they could see as a Master/servant relationship (even though such distance had closed up eventually as the story goes on). The architectural references, esp. the luxurious but minimalistic apartment which they stayed (but in separate rooms); are all too clear to define their relationship. The husband, Vladimir, a wealthy Russian Businessman only met his wife (Elena), a care-taking nurse at his late age. Their only real conversion only happened in a breakfast table and argument soon broke out because of money issue. Both are having their off-spring from previous marriage which affects their own relationship with one other. Indeed, the real relationship of the couple was really with their own child, as have been a consistent theme applied by the director on his previous film. The way the mother (Elena) react over-protectively towards to her own incompetent sons; as well as the rich father's frosty (but actually intimate) relationship with her spoiled yet nomad daughter (brilliantly played by Yelena Lyadova) had allowed the audience to take a closer look to the internal struggle/dilemma of their own characters.

From another perspective, these kind of struggles also reflected how capitalism affect the modern Russia, as evidenced on strong contrast between the protagonists' apartment and her son's cheap social housing. The desire of simply to stay afloat had never been stronger and as Elena shows at the end, one could do anything to help their next generation to have a better life. The ruthlessness of a mother and their need for doing anything possible to protect their own son, including committing a crime, had been shown mercilessly here in a similar way as with "Mother (2009)" from Korean director, Joon-ho Bong.

Indeed, the only character who can be truthful to herself and particularly, able to show any real affection to the one that she really cares, was Vladimir's daughter. The scene where she and her father finally able to make up for their long term issue should be one of the highlight of the film, and probably one of the warmest spot, so much so it redeems Vladimir's as once a very caring father. The rest, however, are simply ice cold and empty, as the weather outside and the branches from tree outside the flat.
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