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Elena

Elena is a character study of an aging housewife who is frustrated by her wealthy husband’s refusal to offer financial assistance to her struggling son (from a previous marriage) and his family. It’s hard to tell how much one’s appreciation of the film is contingent upon their understanding of the class divide in post-Soviet Russia (mine is admittedly limited). Every plodding, beautifully shot moment of its excessive runtime is an overt examination of one or another element of modern Russian society: the banal luxury of the haves, the equally banal squalor of the have-nots, the nihilistic ennui of the youth, the white noise invasion of Western-style trash TV. Thanks to director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s unwavering realism, none of these points is oversold (though some of them are kind of shoehorned in), and the lack of easy villains is crucial to the film’s core moral ambiguity. Still, I got the sense that I was supposed to be rooting for the titular Elena, but for me, neither she nor anyone else came out looking good in the end. And maybe that’s the point, that in today’s Russia, everyone loses.