FNE at Cannes IFF 2011: Certain Regard: Elena


CANNES: Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev returns to form with his new feature Elena fulfilling the promise of his 2003 debut The Return. Elena deservedly won the Special Jury Prix in the Certain Regard section of the Cannes Film Festival 2011. The story revolves around an elderly couple, Elena and Vladimir. Elena played by Nadezhda Markina is a seemingly docile wife who met the wealthy Vladimir played by Andrei Smirnov when she was a nurse and he was recovering in hospital.

They met late in life and both have children from previous marriages. Elena's son Sergei is constantly asking her for money and is unsuccessful in life although Elena clearly loves her son and her grandson and enjoys a warm relationship with them which contrasts with the cold and bleak emotional life she shares with Vladimir. Vladimir's daughter is a careless young woman who is cold to her father and seldom sees him.

Vladimir and Elena's daily existence is monotonous and uneventful with even sex being a casual and barren act without any show of affection or emotion. Elena seems resigned to this and we seen her getting up each morning and following the same routines with a total lack of any reaction. We are not even sure if she is Vladimir's wife or his servant through the first part of the film.

When Vladimir has a heart attack he is reunited with his daughter and resolves to give all his money to her leaving Elena with only a modest annuity to live on. Until now, which is about half way through, the film has proceeded at a glacial pace with the daily routine and lack of any events setting the scene for the surprising for Elena's surprising act when she suddenly decides to Vladimir before he can change his will. The very lack of movement or emotion that Zvyangintsev builds up is masterly and takes this film out of the ordinary into the realm of serious art.

The story moves ahead with full force as Elena murders Vladimir with as little emotion as she has shared his life. We see her repeating her daily routine of opening the curtains in his bedroom after she has killed him he same as we have watched her do every morning. It seems that she has committed the perfect crime as the doctors and police accept Vladimir's death as a completely natural event.

Elena moves her unemployed slob of a son Sergei and his family into Vladimir's apartment which is now hers. She seems to have no illusions about her son and his family but chooses them over Vladimir's coldness and greed. She also suffers no pangs of guilt apparently over what she has done. The marriage was a business deal that became unprofitable for Elena so she terminated it with as little emotion as she lived it. The film ends with scenes of Sergei's baby son happily romping on Vladimir's bed where Elena killed him.

The sparseness of Zyvangintsev's story telling and style remain as his signature although here character development and plot take on a much more important role. The score by Phillip Glass brings an important element to the film as does the stark and formal camerawork of Mikhail Kirchman. This is a film that will win kudos at festivals worldwide for a long time to come.


Director: Andrei Zvyagintsev

Screenplay: Oleg Negin

Cinematography: Mikhail Kirchman.

Cast: Andrei Smirnov, Nadezhda Markina, Elena Lyadova, Alexey Rozin


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