Thursday, May 17, 2012


“Why must I support your son’s family. I live with you not your relatives,” says Vladimir (Andrei Smirnov) the wealthy husband of Elena (Nadezhda Markina) the character after whom Andrei Zvyagintsev’s latest film is named. The plot like everything else in Zvyagintsev’s film, which just opened at Film Forum, is simple. A one time nurse marries the man she’s cared for. He then has to put up with her ne’er do well son Sergey (Alexey Rozin). She, in turn, had do deal with his hedonistic daughter, Katerina (Yelena Lyadova), who’s confined her alcohol and drug taking to the weekends, though she’s still not able to control her food and sex addiction. Vladimir is miserly, but he can also be gentle and make sense and therein lies the seed for the naturalistic approach to a story that could have had melodramatic overtones. When Vladimir has a heart attack while swimming in the pool in his health club, the lifeguard simply dives in and the next moment we are in the hospital room. “So it’s not that bad,” Elena comments soon after she arrives. “Or the other way around,” is Vladimir’s laconic reply. Even the murder that finally takes place is understated. Nothing amounts to much and one is almost reminded of MC Hammer’s iconic lines, “it’s all good,” as one watches Zvyagintsev’s characters squirm for something less than meaning in a numbing world where flat screen televisions pipe out the missives of reality food show contestants and urgent sounding sportscasters—in other words the familiar world of contemporary affluence. The most heroic moment in the movie is the beginning where the camera focuses on the branches in front of an apartment house window and nothing at all happens. With the exception of birds chirping and geese honking, Zvyagintsev chances to continue the silence as he introduces his subjects rising from the separate beds in which they sleep. These same characters are either looking out or being studied. There is a scene where Vladimir gets in his Audi. We follow him as he leaves his garage, trying to find the right radio station as he negotiates Moscow streets. Then we are looking in on him. The branches from the film’s first shot are now reflected on his windshield. Zvyagintsev offers connections, but no conclusions.

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