Unrated (mature themes); 109 min.
Elena is a riveting psychological suspense film. The story is taut domestic drama combined with a treacherous noir-style plot. Directed with sardonic detachment by Russian maestro Andrei Zvyagintsev, it builds its characters slowly, letting our sympathies settle where they may, then blindsiding us with surprises.
Elena (Nadezhda Markina) is a dutiful, 50-ish nurse recently married to elderly, affluent Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov), who was once her patient. They have lived side by side in his ultramodern Moscow apartment for two years, he in the elegant minimalist master bedroom, she in a modest, cozy chamber filled with mementos of her humble life. She is more servant than wife, setting out his meals and medications.
When a crisis puts Vladimir's considerable fortune up for grabs, Elena finds herself toe-to-toe with his long-absent daughter.
If you are already forming opinions about who is the villain and the victim, not so fast. By the time Elena has wrung you out, you will feel pity and abhorrence for every character in equal measure; choosing sides would be like picking a favorite from a jar full of scorpions. Philip Glass' score accentuates the psychological tension. Elena is a fascinating parable of the tensions between Russia's haves and have-nots that never descends to bloodless allegory.
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-- Colin Covert, Minneapolis Star-Tribune