VIFF Day 8: Russian Thrillers without the Thrills

Elena directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev (Russia)

Thriller is a word that can be used to describe a fairly wide range of films. Elena isn’t one of them, but that didn’t stop the VIFF organizers from calling it that in the program guide. I guess “thriller” sounds better than “Slow-paced Russian meditation on the importance of family”. 

Elena is a middle-aged Russian woman who splits her time between taking care of her rich, selfish, second husband (who also has a poor, selfish, lazy daughter) and her poor, selfish, lazy son (who also has a poor, selfish wife, and his own poor, selfish, and lazy son). She’s managed to juggle her different familial loyalties thus far, but eventually she has to make a choice between her two families, and she does. Dramatically.

It’s a well-crafted film, and worth your time if you’re ok with a slow pace to your suspense. Elena does have some dramatic moments, but they’re rare, and not really the point of the film. What this movie is really about, is family, and loyalty to that family. It asks some good questions: How important is family, really? And why? What makes a family anyways? Is it blood? Marriage? Both? And if you have to choose between one family and another, how do you make that choice?

This was a subtle movie, and one that doesn’t give up its secrets easily. And while it’s ending may be unsatisfactory to those that need good to always triumph over evil, it’s one that fits this soft-spoken drama nicely.

Rating: B+


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