Former hospital nurse Elena (a wonderful Nadezhda Markina) is stuck between the devil and the deep blue sea. She is deeply in love with her husband Volodya (Andrei Smirnov), despite being for him little more than a glorified helper who runs the house and keeps tabs on his health. But she also finds herself having to support her ne'er-do-well, unemployed son Sergei (Alexei Rozin) and his suburban family, whom Volodya sees as living off his mother. The clincher, in Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev's exquisitely modulated third feature, is Sergei's request for a hefty sum of money to make sure his teenage son avoids military service, overlaid on a heart attack that leaves Volodya ailing and wishing to reconnect with his own estranged daughter. Faced with a choice, what will Elena do?

   No prizes for guessing. Mr. Zvyagintsev slowly but inexorably sets up his tale as a moral mousetrap custom-tailored to Elena's dilemma, but he does so with the character's conscience fully awakened, as she realises that, regardless of her decision, the money-grabbing younger generation will always be disappointed, whether it's Volodya's urbane daughter Katya (Elena Lyadova) or her own boorish Sergei. Steeped in a very Russian melancholoy fatalism and crisply photographed by Mikhail Krichman in assured slow pans, Elena also shares some of the dispassionate but sympathetic observational qualities of the current Romanian new-wave. But this is, clearly, a beast all its own, smartly pointing out how the generation gap between those who know the value of money and those who don't has risen, framing it as a thoughtful morality tale impeccably performed by a small cast.

Starring Nadezhda Markina, Andrei Smirnov, Elena Lyadova, Alexei Rozin, Evgenya Konushkina, Igor Ogurtsov.

Director: Andrei Zvyagintsev
Screenplay: Oleg Negin, Mr. Zvyagintsev
Cinematography: Mikhail Krichman (colour, processing by Salamandra, widescreen)
Music: Philip Glass
Designer: Andrei Ponkratov
Costumes: Anna Vartuli
Editor: Anna Mass
Producers: Alexander Rodniansky, Sergei Melkumov (Non-Stop Production)
Russia, 2011, 109 minutes

Screened: DVD, Lisbon, July 29th 2012


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