‘Elena’ illustrates the ease of domestic murder

Parents may sometimes be blind to the faults of their children and the love of a mother can be dangerous. At least that’s the case in the 2011 Russian film , “Elena.” This movie, which opened on Friday, 8 June 2012, at the Laemmle Pasadena Playhouse 7 won a Special Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival.

Writer Oleg Negin gives us a comfortable situation with uncomfortable complications. An elderly couple live a simple life. Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov) is retired. Elena (Nadezhda Markina) is married to her job.  Elena met the wealthy Vladimir when he was her patient and she was his private nurse. Now, she is his caretaker, fixing him his meals and providing him with some carnal pleasure.

Elena and Vladimir were previously married. For Vladimir, this means he has a spoiled and ungrateful child, Katya (Elena Lyadova). Elena also has one child, Sergei (Alexey Rozin). While Vladimir still dotes on Katya, he is less generous with the unemployed Sergei.

Vladimir complains when Elena treks across town to visit Sergei, his wife and her teenaged grandchild, Sasha (Igor Ogurtsov). Why can’t Sergei bring his family to them? Yet even as he utters those words, we know why. Sergei doesn’t want to be under the grumpy authority of Vladimir and Elena wants to be free from the claustrophobic supervision of her husband and boss.

Employers and husbands should not underestimate their employees and wives, particularly when the wife is also an employee. Negin slowly builds up our understanding of the situation. Everything is normal, perhaps chillingly too normal. Both Vladimir and Elena make choices that force a decision, one that could happen anywhere and likely does.

Director Andrey Zvyagintsev delicately constructs the problem and suggests the solution. Markina’s nuanced performance allows us to see beyond the dull and dowdy woman that Vladimir thinks he knows. Smirnov’s Vladimir isn’t resident evil, yet while we see his humanity, we also see him as less worthy of our sympathy, allowing us to side with Elena despite the mortality of the situation.

In Russian with English subtitles.

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