Elena ★★

I'm really troubled by this one. On the one hand I admire the hell out of both Nadezhda Markina's quietly heartbreaking performance, unquestionably among the best of the year, and director Andrei Zvyagintsev's clear empathy for the titular woman, slave to the whims of two equally boorish and self-important men (her wealthy husband and poor adult son, respectively). But there's a pointed class division to the relationships in "Elena," and one with some dubious implications. Zvyagintsev insinuates--through several episodes of guilt and violence near the film's end, as well as an austere style and score that only belabor the mounting menace--that the underprivileged would be better served if left to their own devices, that any good will afforded them won't improve their lives. And the symmetry of the film's two bookending shots seems to only underscore that deep cynicism.