Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Elena (orig. Елена) [2011]

MPAA (Unrated)  Roger Ebert (3 Stars)  Fr. Dennis (3 Stars)

IMDb listing -
Roger Ebert's Review -
KinoNews.ru - [Russ. Orig] [Eng Trans]

Elena (orig. Елена) [KinoNews.ru][Eng Trans] directed and co-written by Andrey Zvyagintsev [KinoNews.ru][Eng Trans] along with Oleg Negin [KinoNews.ru][Eng Trans] is a 2011 Russian film that has received acclaim both inside and outside Russia, winning 4 Nikas (the Russian Equivalent of the Oscars) and 4 Golden Eagles (the Russian equivalent of the Golden Globes) as well as awards at that 2011 Cannes Film Festival and the Asia Pacific Screen Awards and one nomination at the 2011 European Film Awards.

The film is about Elena (played by Nadezhda Markina [KinoNews.ru][Eng Trans]) a retired nurse who had a few years previous married Vladimir (played by Andrey Smirnov [KinoNews.ru][Eng Trans]) a retired and very wealthy Moscow business-man.  They had met a number of years before when Vladimir had found himself in the hospital with a burst appendix.  Elena had helped nurse him to health.  Vladimir had apparently thought himself in need of a live-in nurse afterwards and decided get one by marrying Elena.  Vladimir's wealth seemed an attractive factor for Elena as well.  Pragmatism rather than love seems to have motivated both of them.

Both Elena and Vladimir have problematic adult children from previous marriages.  Elena's son Sergei (played by Alexey Rosin) lives with his family at the edge of Moscow in a dilapidated housing complex of the style built throughout the Eastern bloc during the Communist era.  To underscore the point, the housing complex appears to be next to a number of huge, rusting, yet still operating cooling towers normally associated with nuclear power plants ... Yet, Sergei isn't even working in that nearby power plant.  Instead, he appears to be unemployed, spending his time drinking an occasional beer, knocking-up his wife (they seem to be expecting a third child, which for Russia appears to be a lot, especially if they live in a very small flat) and playing video-games with his similarly unimpressive teenage son, Sasha, who's growing-up to be "just like dad."

Vladimir, in turn, has a burnt-out and quite angry daughter, Katerina (played by Elena Lyadova [KinoNews.ru][Eng Trans]) in her late-20s/early-30s who "went the way of her mother ... a hedonist."  Apparently, Vladimir had used his money to basically purchase a different kind of wife when he was younger, who gave him this largely ingrate daughter who had lived it up when she was younger.   Marvelous...

The movie is driven by what's awaiting Sergei's son (Elena's grandson) Sasha.  He's approaching maturity (in the U.S., high school graduation age).  Yet his grades have been awful.  Elena and Sergei fear that he's going to be drafted.  Sergei tells Elena "Just look at him.  He's exactly the kind of guy their going to draft and send straight down to Ossetia after basic training." (Ossetia is the disputed territory between Russia and country of Georgia in the Caucasus).  American viewers would understand the situation because the Russian military today appears to operate under almost exactly principles (at least with regards to conscription) as the United States did during the Vietnam War era: those who could get into universities are able to get deferments, those who could not (or are forced to leave college) become eligible for the draft with the attendant shenanigans and corruption that such a situation produces.  Elena decides to ask Vladimir for "some help."  The rest of the movie ensues ...

The movie is quite dark.  None of the characters in this picture are portrayed in a particularly good light.  As such, one could understand why a fair number of Russians have complained over the post-Communist years that "Russian movies are not what they used to be."  (Soviet-era films used to be basically propaganda films ... where 'bad' things generally only happened in places outside of Russia/the Soviet bloc or were caused by Communism's opponents).  So while critically acclaimed both inside and outside of Russia, this film is characteristic of currents in contemporary Russian cinema that would have more in common with American directors like Oliver Stone and Martin Scorsese than someone like Steven Spielberg.

Don't get me wrong, I did like the movie.  I think it shows an obvious and exemplary seriousness / critical eye within the contemporary Russian artistic community.  I just hope that in coming years some "lighter" Russian films also make it to the United States rather than just "dark" ones such as this one. 

I would simply note that one of the web-sites for movies that I've come to enjoy since starting my blog is the Russian youth oriented KinoNews.ru [Eng-trans].  (Note: I do know some Russian, but I for a quick look I generally run it through google.translate.com and then if the translation doesn't make sense, I go back to better parse the original Russian).  If it's obvious that Russian young people liked The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo [Eng-Trans], Mark Fassbender as "Magneto" in X-Men: First Class [Eng-Trans], and voted Mila Kunis (of Ukrainian ancestry) as the "sexiest actress" in 2012, (for the whole list check -- KinoNews Awards 2012 / Eng-Trans) it'd be nice if over time some more popular/youth oriented films from Russia would make it to the United States as well.  Otherwise, we in the United States will remain with a largely propagandized view of Russia and Russians, that movies like Elena (orig. Елена) [KinoNews.ru][Eng Trans] (if this is all of Russia that we are able to see) inadvertently end-up supporting.  And that would be a shame.

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