Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev
Starring Nadezhda Markina, Andrey Smirnov, and Aleksey Rozin
Caught between a well-off life in her second marriage and her son’s jobless and impoverished life, Elena takes matters into her own hands to make sure her family is taken care of, even if it means losing the new family she has.
In this Russian-language character drama, Elena is a retired nurse living the good life while her family lives below the poverty line, and she means to fix that. Elena’s son from a previous marriage is poor and lives in the slums of the city. Vladimir, her well-off and elderly businessman husband, shows no love for her family, and more importantly, no financial support. With more grandchildren on the way and her eldest grandson facing compulsory military service, Elena takes matters into her own hands.
This film examines two different lifestyles: the haves and the have-nots. Vladimir is quite successful in whatever not-mentioned business he is in. His home is a large apartment with granite and wood surfaces. He drives a nice, shiny car. He keeps stacks of money in his safe. However much he has, it’s enough to keep his heirs interested.
In contrast is Elena’s son Sergey, who lives with his wife and two children in a cramped apartment within a cramped apartment building in the ghetto. He’s unemployed and relies on his mother’s pension funds to get by.
Also in contrast is how these characters act and interact with others. No one in this film is without flaws, but Vladimir at least treats his family well (his wife Elena and his estranged daughter Katerina). His attitude towards Sergey is less of a disdain or indifference and more like that crotchety old-man “back in my day, we worked for what we wanted” mentality, viewing his poor lifestyle as laziness. He’s probably right. Sergey uses his mother’s money to drink while he dominates over his wife. Instead of facing issues, he plays Playstation games with his son. No effort in the film shows him trying to overcome his situation. And Elena plays blind to her son’s slothfulness.
But Vladimir’s daughter Katerina is no shining apple either. Name a vice, and she’s apparently an addict of it. Alcohol, drugs, sex, what have you. And she has no interest in starting a family and continuing Vladimir’s family line.
All of this on class differences, on if our positions in life make us who we are, or do we make our own place in life, would be better served if the film doesn’t feel cut off instead. The film builds itself as a suspense piece, making the audience wonder if Elena will get away with her ill-gotten goods. And then it ends, with no climatic build up or resolution. The climax ends up actually halfway through the film, and the denouement falls flat as you’re left wondering about the crime thriller aspect. It’s after reflection that you realize that the film isn’t about the thrilling suspense, which isn’t all that thrilling or suspenseful, but is about these two dynamically different class structures that Elena straddles the line of, and how everyone is almost equally screwed up, just in different ways.
It’s almost a fake out, and that may throw some viewers off. Not finding out if Elena gets caught, if her efforts help her family or not, so much about the film is left to question without answering anything. Some people like that. Me, I like a little bit of concrete with my interpretive endings. The film is otherwise well put-together, but its slow pacing and a frustratingly unsatisfactory ending leaves the film falling flat.
The Video and Audio
The film is in 2.35:1 widescreen. The film is crisp and sharp. It’s a generally dim film, not too much sunny weather, but what color there is comes through well. The audio is all in Russian, with both 5.1 surround and stereo tracks, and English subtitles so you know what’s happening, but otherwise the audio is nothing impressive.
The Packaging and Bonus Features
The label on the disc is a sticker that wasn’t applied well, so there’s a crease in it. It makes this release look like a cheap bootleg. Since there’s nothing on the packaging or sent with the DVD that implies that this is a pre-release review copy, I can only assume that’s what it will look like in retail, which is kind of sad.
The extras included are a half-hour interview with director Andrey Zvyagintsev, the U.S. theatrical trailer of the film, and a video showing the screen printing of the movie poster. The director interview is scattered in how it covers the film, jumping around without really maintaining interest.
Sadly, the most interesting extra is the poster screen printing video. The movie poster, which is also the box art, is a simple and clean silhouette. The actual process is fun to see. Also, local fact, the image’s designer Sam Smith and the print shop for the posters Kangaroo Press are in Nashville, TN, as is this review’s writer and CineGeek in general, so yay local props. Not enough to help much though.
Overall (Not an Average)
This will be a rough film if you don’t know what you’re getting into. Despite the premise and the plot of a suspense piece, it does away with that by the end to solely compare and contrast these two lifestyles of the well-off and the welfare-needing. Even knowing that, the film’s ending will still leave you wondering where the rest of the story is.
The Film 5.5/10
The Video and Audio 6/10
The Packaging and Bonus Features 4/10
Overall (Not an Average) 5.5/10