Bristling and volatile familial dynamics, perhaps mirroring the sociopolitical landscape of modern day Russia, has been a crucial theme for Andrey Zvyagintsev’s dissenting voice – be it in the grim The Banishment or the brilliantly subversive Leviathan or the darkly compelling Loveless. In the bleak, restrained, engrossing and Hitchcockian Elena, the interplay between marital relationship and class differences made for an implosive Molotov Cocktail. The film begins with an eerily tranquil opening sequence that perfectly presaged the lull before the storm. Elena (Nadezhda Markina), a former nurse belonging to a lower social strata, is married to the fabulously wealthy Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov); though their’s might have been a love marriage, the yawning socioeconomic backgrounds of this middle-aged couple is firmly established by her role more as a housekeeper than an equal partner. And their delicate balance is made all the more fragile by their kids from previous marriages – she’s unhappy of the preferential treatment he extends to his strikingly attractive, hedonistic, acerbic daughter (Elena Lyadova), while he disdains her slob son (Aleksey Rozin) who resides in the working-class outskirts and is dependent on financial support, including to keep his teenage son out of compulsory military service. This precarious equilibrium, however, is given a nudge – which is enough for their house of cards to collapse – when, after a heart attack, he decides to bequeath his wealth to his daughter; and this, in turn, provokes her to take a grimly decisive step to get her rightful share. Shot using precisely controlled visuals, awash with brooding minimalism and punctuated with an evocative organ-based score, the film never took easy sides with any of the characters, which made its moral ambiguity all the more riveting.
Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Genre: Drama/Marital Drama/Family Drama