F.I.L.M. of the Week (December 19, 2014)

19 12 2014

ElenaI have no idea how he does it, but Russian writer/director Andrey Zvyagintsev has a remarkable talent for making his films feel like modern-day parables.  His work on “Elena,” my pick for the “F.I.L.M. of the Week,” achieves this tenor of storytelling through one heck of a balancing act.

The film is pared down to an almost elemental struggle without ever being dumbed down.  His visual style takes a heavy cue from naturalism, portraying much of the dreary minutiae that occupies most of our lives, yet “Elena” still feels compelling nonetheless.  Zvyagintsev provides satisfying drama that never dips into the realm of sensationalism.

“Elena” chronicles a brief period in the life of its titular character, a former nurse who has married up to wealthy Moscow businessman Vladimir.  If Russia has something equivalent to Social Security, they are at about that age.  So, naturally, the subject of settling his estate is a rather pressing concern.

Elena is hardly a gold digger, although she does have an interest in ensuring a significant stake.  Her grown son cannot provide for his own family, so he constantly leans on his mother for financial support.  Vladimir has grown tired of their inability to become self-sufficient, and he firmly withholds tuition funds for Elena’s grandson that would keep him out of the military.  To counter, Elena is also quick to remind him that she is a better investment than his thankless, prodigal daughter Katerina.

What ensues in “Elena” is a fascinating look at the lengths to which people will go in order to secure their future.  Every choice and each word are up for debate as to their correctness.  Zvyagintsev also astutely builds in the confounding factor of class relations to the film, adding an extra layer of complexity into a film that already boasts an intricate simplicity.  While very little may happen in regards to events, “Elena” feels like a more full viewing experience than most films these days.

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