MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Andrei Zvyagintsev
Film Pulse Score: 7/10
Elena is a frank portrayal of one dutiful wife’s desperation to cement a brighter future for her son and his children. Elena, excellently acted by Nadezhda Markina, spends her time with household chores, looking after her husband Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov) and routinely providing financial assistance to her lazy, unemployed son Sergey (Aleksey Rozin), who has two children with his wife. Elena is a loving and caring wife whose only ambition in life seems to care for her family – her life is lived through her children, from whom she draws her sense of worth.
When Sergey’s son requests money for college, Elena approaches her wealthy husband for the funds, but is rebuffed; Vladimir is of the opinion that it is the duty of the father to provide for his children, and so leaves it up to Sergey to come up with the money for his son’s education. When a heart attack leaves Vladimir in the hospital, however, his estranged daughter Katerina (Yelena Lyadova) pays a visit and seems to reconnect with her father. It is after this somewhat picturesque reunion that Vladimir announces that he is preparing a will and leaving his inheritance to his daughter and Elena will receive monthly stipends. Elena realizes that Vladimir’s announcement means that her grandchildren’s chances for brighter futures are all but terminated.
Realizing that she doesn’t have much time, with Vladimir’s attorney arriving the next day to formally document his will, Elena quickly comes with a plan to ensure financial freedom for her son and grandchildren. Elena’s desperate plan essentially plays out while she’s concocting it and it comes to fruition within a matter of minutes. There’s no tension in the remainder of the film, there’s no investigation, Elena’s isn’t questioned and no one has any suspicions.
The film raises more than a few questions regarding class, gender roles, and morality, which it does not choose to answer, but instead leaves open for the viewer to ponder. The intentions and actions of the characters are portrayed on scene with an icy frankness and Zvyagintsev decides not to delve into trying to make sense of said actions. It is what it is, nothing more nothing less. Zvyagintsev leaves it up to viewer to decide whether Elena is cold-blooded or just providing for her family by any means possible.
Elena is almost a twist on the ancient Greek myth of Oedipus, now Sergey didn’t accomplish the deed, but it could be said that his laziness and lack of movitation that put him in his family current situation forced his mother to resort to such drastic measures. In the final scenes you see Sergey making himself at home in Vladimir’s apartment, drinking his beer and even discussing possible future home improvements. Zvyagintsev bookends Elena the an extended static shot through dead trees onto the exterior of Vladimir’s apartment; In the final shot, the director displays a family in a twisted jovial mood, showing no signs of regret.