[Marxism] More on "Elena"
lnp3 at panix.com
Wed May 16 11:39:59 MDT 2012
NY Times May 11, 2012
Evolving Russia Finds a Recorder of Its Moment
By SOPHIA KISHKOVSKY
EVER since he won the grand prize at the 2003 Venice Film Festival
for his stunning film debut, “The Return,” an allegorical tale of
father-son relations tinged with mystery, Andrei Zvyagintsev has
been hailed as the heir to the Russian master Andrei Tarkovsky.
Now with “Elena,” his taut and starkly realistic third film that
is also a mystical parable, Mr. Zvyagintsev is being described as
a seer of the social and spiritual divides in Vladimir V. Putin’s
Shot in 2010 and released here last fall, “Elena” seemed to
capture the mood that led to mass protests against Mr. Putin and
Russia’s entrenched bureaucrats after charges of widespread
electoral fraud in December’s parliamentary elections.
“We all are rotten seeds,” says the most cynical character in
“Elena,” Katerina, who is paradoxically the only character honest
with herself and others and who shows glimmers of redemption.
“Moral questions are being set aside,” Mr. Zvyagintsev said in an
interview last month in his sleek office in central Moscow,
reflecting on Russia and accusations by critics, intellectuals and
general audiences that his film defames Russians by portraying
them in a negative light. “New values are being articulated.”
“One has to be blind not to see this,” he said.
Mr. Zvyagintsev is wary of directly criticizing Mr. Putin, the
newly re-elected president, or those who supported him on the way
to the March 4 vote. But the filmmaker did attend an anti-Putin
rally in December and talked about it on an opposition television
channel. And the sense that he views life — and the Russian
condition — as a series of moral challenges is apparent in his
films and in conversation.
“A person who is in art can speak of politics through art,” he said.
“Elena,” shown as part of the Certain Regard section at Cannes
last year, was honored with a special jury prize there, and Mr.
Zvyagintsev took home the best director award at the Nika film
awards in Russia last month. But “Elena” was pushed out of
contention last year for Russia’s Oscar entry for best
foreign-language film in place of “Citadel,” the final installment
of a trilogy about the Stalin era and World War II. “Citadel” was
directed by Nikita Mikhalkov, who presides like a czar over
Russia’s film world.
Americans can see what the controversy was about when “Elena” has
its premiere in the United States on Wednesday at Film Forum.
BAMcinématek will offer a sneak preview on Monday as part of its
Next Director series. Also screening as part of the series are
“Apocryphya,” Mr. Zvyagintsev’s entry in the anthology film “New
York, I Love You,” which was not included in its theatrical
release; “The Banishment,” his 2007 film that was not released in
the United States; and “The Return.”
“Elena” is set unmistakably in today’s Moscow. The tacky talk
shows and dating games that fill TV screens here are a recurrent
On the surface the socioeconomic lines could not be more clearly
drawn: the film cuts between Moscow’s most elite neighborhood,
near the Kremlin, and the industrial sprawl and crumbling
Soviet-era housing on its outskirts, where credit cards are still
regarded as something alien.
Elena — in her 50s, dutiful and taciturn — lives with her older,
much richer husband, who shows her little affection but appears to
depend on her. They are played by the stately Nadezhda Markina and
Andrei Smirnov, veteran Russian actors, and their relationship
speaks volumes about alienation, exploitation and attraction.
Elena’s sole purpose in life, one that represents many Russian
women, is to support her adult son, Sergey. Unemployed, with a
family that includes a teenager who needs to be bought out of
impending military service, he lives off his mother with no
qualms. Her husband, Vladimir, also supports his own wayward
daughter, Katerina, from a previous marriage. But once he insists
that Elena’s family — and especially her son — take responsibility
for their lives, the long-suffering and religious Elena snaps.
Mr. Zvyagintsev is a youthful-looking 48, a fashionably dressed
and soft-spoken father of four. But he links his Siberian
background and impoverished days as a young actor in Moscow to the
harsher realities of Russian life today, and he chafes at
suggestions that the portrayal of Elena’s poor relations is
exaggerated and insulting.
“When people say this is a caricature, I say this is me,” he said.
“We didn’t have to go to Biryulyovo” — a reference to a
working-class neighborhood in the film — “to study people there.
It’s me and my friends. Maybe I’m not so close to oligarchs.”
“Elena” is permeated with the sense that people can live side by
side for years and be divided. Mr. Zvyagintsev said the idea of
overriding disconnection between people was the basis of his
original vision for the film in 2009. It began as a script by Mr.
Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin for a British producer who wanted an
international lineup to make films revolving around the idea of
apocalypse. Mr. Zvyagintsev’s contribution was supposed to be in
English, with characters named Helen and Richard.
The apocalypse project fell through, and Mr. Zvyagintsev
translated the script to a Russian setting. Russian reviewers last
fall noted that he had conveyed the sense of impending doom in
Russia — “moral catastrophe” as he describes it — but the film,
with no direct political references, cleared the censors on
Rossiya, one of two main state television channels, and was
broadcast during prime time last November. But in theatrical
release in Russia, where American blockbusters dominate, “Elena”
pulled in just over 100,000 viewers, fewer than it drew in France.
In late April, at a Moscow art gallery holding an exhibition about
Tarkovsky, Mr. Zvyagintsev presented his favorite Tarkovsky film,
“Andrei Rublev,” about the Russian religious iconographer. Amid
depictions of feudal Russia, it examined the role of the artist
and the meaning of faith.
Mr. Zvyagintsev deflected accusations that he imitates Tarkovsky,
saying that it was impossible not to be inspired by him. The next
day, “Rublev” still on his mind, Mr. Zvyagintsev mused about
Russia. “We are a feudal society,” he said, “with a slavish
mentality. I don’t think we can ever change this until our entire
world order changes. We need to have many new generations born in
Yulia Taranova contributed reporting.
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