Browse all reviews by letter     A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z 0 - 9

Russia 2011
Directed by
Andrey Zvyagintsev
100 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Sharon Hurst
4 stars


Synopsis: Elena (Nadezhda Markina), a one-time nurse in her fifties, is married to Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov), a well-to-do business man. Each has children by their former marriages. Elena’s son, Sergey (Aleksey Rozin) is a beer-swilling wastrel, whose wife is pregnant with their third kid, one they can ill afford. Sergey wants money from Vladimir to send his older son Sasha to university and to avoid his being drafted.  Vladimir’s daughter, Katerina (Yelena Lyadova) is estranged from her father alhough he dotes on her. When Vladimir survives a heart attack he decides to make a will a decision which has dramatic implications for all.

Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes in 2011, Elena is sure to be greatly disturbing to anyone in a troubled stepfamily, especially those where the offspring seem determined to milk the parents for all they can get. Thematically there is much food for thought here; nothing scripted melodramatically, just relentlessly and upsettingly credible, in its modest plot and its minimal but realistic dialogue.

Director Andrey Zvyagintsev impressed some years back with his debut film, The Return (2003), again dealing with strife-torn families. His latest film shows what a talent he is, with an eye for detail that is subtle yet telling. The minutiae of daily life is captured with care. The opening scene features a bare tree outside a window and the sun slowly rising in almost real time, then cuts to the couple’s mundane morning ritual in which we learn much about them. No words are spoken for about five minutes, then, when conversation ensues after a phone call, we learn of the inherent conflict between this couple regarding their respective adult children.

When Elena sets out to visit her son, Sergei. we are treated to a slow journey, a literal transition which gives us a chance to take in the shabby conditions in which Sergei lives, which are in sharp contrast to the upmarket apartment his mother and Vladimir share. This is no doubt also a commentary on the division of wealth in post-Communist  Russia, a state of affairs reflected in the conflicting views of Elena’s son and daughter-in-law who see it as their right to be given money and Vladimir who believes that parents should be responsible for their own kids and all should work in order to make their way in the world.

Although little happens for a considerable part of the film, when Vladimir decides to write his will and Elena realises its implications, how she handles it comes as a real shock. Nadezhda Markina’s performance is mesmerising, particularly when Elena, whom we have seen is a dedicated mother, albeit possibly a misguided one, starts to reveal a maternal dedication of which we were initially unaware.

The slow and deliberate style of film-making will not be for everyone. Yet what it compellingly achieves is to give us a window onto ordinary lives and the quiet desperation which lies beneath appearances.




Want something different?

random vintage best worst