Elena To watch Andrei Zvyagintsev's "Elena" is to see the best of Dostoevsky and mystery master James M. Cain on screen. This is a groundbreaking Sleeper of a film. It is an exercise in Minimalism that is pitch perfect. It demands your attention, but you will not be unrewarded.
At the start, we are in a palatial apartment in Russia. Elena (Nadezhda Markina) lives with her stingy husband Vladimir (Andrey Smimov), who won't budge an inch in the support of Elena's slacker son Sergy (Alexey Rozin). Elena is shy and reserved and both Vladimir and Elena spend most of their time onscreen walking in and out of rooms. Each one resides in a comfortable prison, barely talking to the other despite the abundance of space.
Meanwhile across town, lazy shlub Sergy moans that he doesn't have enough money to send his apathetic son Sasha (Igor Ogurtsov) to college. Sergy entertains sending him to the military. They live in a dim smoky closet apartment with little option or outlet. To make matters worse, there is also a newborn in the family.
This impending dilemma eats away at Elena who plays the Martyr against her husband's iron will. Nadezhda Markina is wonderful in her role and her shy reserve and inner manipulation is reminiscent of Janet Leigh in Hitchcock's "Psycho". To watch Markina is to see subtlety and fear in action, together with the reptilian rage of class warfare.
The apprehension is further enhanced by a marvelous, if familiar score by the inimitable Phillip Glass. Not since the legendary Bernard Hermann has there been a composer who illustrates our age of anxiety so well with his deep thrumming violin strokes and repetitions.
Despite the resonance of violence, you won't find much blood on walnut floors spilled here. "Elena" is built on the LEGO blocks of a Limbic system that slowly runs out of control, but only just slightly. Secrets are kept in empty rooms that have barely been disturbed.
When Elena burns Vladimir's notes in the kitchen, we fully witness the domestic fires of Hell.
There is something of the ghost of Roman Polanski here, given that Nature rolls on without a care. Indeed, the poetics of "Elena" will pass you by in a whisper, if you opt to miss it. But please don't. The word "pregnant" is just as threatening here as it is in "Rosemary's Baby". This film, like Phillip Glass' score escalates to a sharp, fearful mood that is not easy to dismiss. Write Ian at firstname.lastname@example.org