Time Out rating:
Time Out says
Tue May 15 2012
Starkly depicting the massive disparities of wealth that are the central subject of modern-day Russia, Andrei Zvyagintsev’s bold morality tale asks a thorny question under the guise of a sleek near-thriller. Our title heroine (the absorbingly reserved Nadezhda Markina), a former nurse, lives in a glinting paradise: Her onetime patient, wealthy Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov), has taken her for his own in his luxurious, glass-walled Moscow apartment. Elena goes out on occasion to visit her slovenly adult son from a previous marriage, Sergey (Aleksey Rozin); the doomed realities of his family’s flea-bitten conditions unnerve her. Old Vladimir remains unsympathetic to giving a loan, however, and when he suffers a serious relapse (his hard-partying estranged daughter swoops in for the money), Elena faces a dark, murderous choice.
Rarely do movies—never mind foreign ones, of any nationality—explore an honest-to-God ethical quandary. Elena, in its concentrated austerity, often resembles a lost chapter of Krzysztof Kieslowski’s Ten Commandments–themed Decalogue. Zvyagintsev (whose 2003’s feature debut, The Return, unspooled with magnificent tension) could have benefitted from the Polish director’s self-imposed hour-long running time: Elena feels a touch repetitive right when it should be tightening the screws. But its fatalism is contagious. Climactically, the electricity cuts out and we all look upward, guiltily.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf
Author: Joshua Rothkopf
Fri Jan 6 2012
Cast and crew
Andrei Smirnov, Elena Lyadova, Alexei Rozin, Nadezhda Markina