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Nadezhda Markina gives a marvelously understated performance in Andrey Zvyagintsev’s ELENA

ELENA (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2011)
Film Forum
209 West Houston St.
May 16-29

Winner of a Special Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard section of the 2011 Cannes Film Festival, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Elena is a poignant character study and family drama set in Vladimir Putin’s post-Communist Russia. Nadezhda Markina gives a marvelously understated performance as Elena, a former nurse now married to her second husband, the successful and very direct Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov). Elena’s son from her first marriage, the unemployed Sergey (Alexey Rozin), is in need of money to support his wife, Tatyana (Evgenia Konushkina) and send his son, Sasha (Igor Ogurtsov), to university, but Vladimir is reconsidering helping them out, believing that it’s about time that Sergey got a job and took care of things himself. Vladimir’s hesitation extremely disappoints Elena, especially when Vladimir continues to support his daughter, Katerina (Elena Lyadova), a free spirit who barely acknowledges his existence. After Vladimir suffers a heart attack, Elena fears for her future and that of her family, suddenly facing some hard questions. Zvyagintsev has followed up the critical smash successes The Return and The Banishment with another superbly told tale that makes expert use of the tools of his trade, from the strong, assured script, which he cowrote with Oleg Negin, and the gorgeous cinematography by Mikhail Krichman to the solid acting and the haunting music. Elena is this generation’s Jeanne Dielman, a deliberate, methodical woman who finds herself caught up in a complex situation with no easy way out. The slow pace of the film, which is filled with lingering shots and Philip Glass’s modern-noir score (from 1995’s Symphony No. 3), moves intoxicatingly to the beat of Elena’s heart. Zvyagintsev, who was just celebrated at BAM with a three-day “Next Director” retrospective, will be at Film Forum for a discussion following the 8:00 screening on May 16.

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