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Saturday, February 7, 2015

ELENA (2011)

Until LEVIATHAN/’14, none of Russian writer/director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s pics had the impact of his stunning debut, THE RETURN/’03. That’s certainly the case here. Yes, its beautifully observed and just about perfectly realized on its limited terms, but the project simply hasn’t got enough going on, above or below the surface. It’s a tale of ‘Haves’ and ‘Have Nots,’ New Russia style, with a rich retiree who lives with his middle-aged, if younger second wife in splendid modern apartment isolation. She’d been his nurse, and is still something of a servant in the relationship, which is not without mutual benefits and affection. But when a medical crisis arises, the wife worries about her future and inheritance. What’s to become of her deadbeat son and the boy’s wife & kids who all but live on her indulgence? And now, her sickly husband has his mind set on helping the careless daughter who blithely ignores him, as a newly proposed will proves once more that blood is thicker than water . . . but it’s not yet down on paper. Cue ominously repetitive Philip Glass music. So, with the ailing man’s pill regimen at her disposal (and her son’s financial future on the line), something’s gotta give. Not so far from James Cain territory here. In fact, knee-deep in it, but with slo-mo delivery meant to add depth & earnest ethics to the tropes. Instead, in spite a few stunning moments (a gorgeous Vermeer-like medium close-up of the wife with curtains as backdrop; an out-of-the-blue gang attack on a camp of vagrants), Zvyagintsev directs with a swizzle stick, stirring all the fizz out while adding little of substance to compensate.

DOUBLE-BILL: THE RETURN or (not seen here, yet) LEVIATHAN.

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