Elena (12A)


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The Independent Culture

Andrey Zvyagintsev's drama of bad blood unfolds with such outward calm and deftness that we are not prepared for its quietly horrifying denouement.

Elena (Nadezhda Markina) is a heavy-set, middle-aged woman who shares a well-appointed Moscow apartment with her businessman husband, Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov). Once his nurse, Elena was upgraded to wife a few years back. Both have children from previous marriages: Elena has a shiftless son with a family he can't support, while Vladimir has a daughter (Elena Lyadova) whose cool front may hide something more complicated.

The plot hinges on Elena's anxiety about her teenage grandson, destined for army conscription unless he can afford a place at college. But Vladimir wants nothing to do with her family problems: why should he pay for a stranger's education?

A crisis will force the issue, though the steady pacing tricks us into making false assumptions. What we thought we were watching was a portrayal of domestic drudgery and late middle-age angst, whereas the drama has sinister, far-reaching implications. Zvyagintsev, who also made the magnificent The Return (2003), is proving himself a major talent.