Elena - Blu-ray Review

'it becomes close to impossible to read the film as anything but a political treatise, perhaps leaning towards a left-wing, socialist agenda'

Bizarrely, one of the only concrete details IMDb carries for director Andrey Zvyagintsev's next project, Leviafan, is the running time, a lengthy one-hundred and thirty minutes. For fans of fast-paced cinema, perhaps that might be one to miss, as Elena, an earlier work, shows a director in no hurry to get anywhere; soon, fast, or possibly, at all.

Finally Elena does pull out that which it has worked up to and thereafter unfolds a crackling, searing final third, full of repressed angst, shame and the unsaid. That it works so well is entirely down to the proceeding two thirds, slow and occasionally ponderous though they are. Without the work laid down here, there would be a serious problem in Elena, all bang and little buck, working toward an inevitable conclusion. Zvyagintsev's patience is at once his greatest strength and one of Elena's flaws: the film works because of it but may lose some along the way.

Of the rest of what is going on within Elena, it becomes close to impossible to read the film as anything but a political treatise, perhaps leaning towards a left-wing, socialist agenda. Apparently, unwilling or unable to work towards any reasonable reward, Sergey (Aleksey Rozin) is left to rely on his mother Elena's (Nadezhda Markina) rich husband (Andrey Smirnov) to fund his own son's college fee, something he needs to avoid the perils of Russia's army.

The film suggests not only that the route Elena eventually takes may be the right one, by asking you to sympathise with her, but puts her in the difficult shoes of the politician or the voter, in need of making a choice between staunch austerity and overt liberalism. It sounds dour but Zvyagintsev and, mainly, the impeccable Markina ensure it never is, Elena flourishing under his careful lens and her delightfully human approach.

There's also lots here regarding death and how we go (we open on a distinctly symbolic crow and close on the same tree, now sans bird) and families and how we relate to them. It might very well be the definition of 'slow burn', but Zvyagintsev keeps rubbing the kindling and eventually ends up with a near masterpiece, an expressive socially relevant experience of un-giddy, clever restraint.



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