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Petra Costa goes searching for her older sister in intimate, mesmerizing documentary

Petra Costa goes searching for her older sister in intimate, mesmerizing documentary

ELENA (Pera Costa, 2013)
IFC Center
323 Sixth Ave. at West Third St.
Opens Friday, May 30

Brazilian actress and filmmaker Petra Costa searches for her older sister, as well as herself, in the beautifully poetic, hypnotic and intimate Elena. “Today I walked through the city, listening to your voice, and I identify so much with your words that I start losing myself in you,” Petra says over footage of her walking through modern-day New York. In the 1980s, Elena, seven years older than Elena, moved to New York to study to become an actress. Things didn’t go quite as planned as she became overwhelmed by severe depression. Using home movies, video footage, and audiotapes, Petra follows in her sister’s footsteps, both figuratively and literally, as she tries to understand what Elena was going through. Carrying a pair of cameras — a Super 8 and a Canon 5D — Petra travels to New York City with her mother, visiting the apartment building where they briefly lived and meeting with some of Elena’s old acquaintances. Petra adds captivating dreamlike imagery that equates her sister with Shakespeare’s Ophelia, along with a wide-ranging soundtrack of Brazilian music in addition to Maggie Hastings Clifford’s mesmerizing “I Turn to Water” (cowritten by Petra) and “Sister of the Sea” and the Mamas and the Papas’ “Dedicated to the One I Love.” Reminiscent of C. Scott Willis’s 2010 documentary The Woodmans, about artist Francesca Woodman and her artist parents, Elena is a haunting exploration of family, mental illness, creative expression, and dealing with tragedy. The film, which was executive produced by Tim Robbins and Fernando Meirelles and has won awards at festivals around the world, opens May 30 at the IFC Center; the opening night screening will be followed by a Q&A on “Boundaries on the Self” with Jonathan Caouette, Alan Berliner, and Petra Costa, moderated by Sarah Salovaara.

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