Jazz, film, and improvised culture.
Elena: Sister Remembers Sister
timing is eerie, yet perhaps providential. It is hard not to be reminded of the
recent death of Searching for Sugar Man director
Malik Bendjellou when walking into Petra Costa’s cinematic elegy to her older
sister, who tragically took her own life in 1990. While Bendjellou’s recent
success makes his death is particularly shocking to outsiders, Costa’s sister
and mother were to some extent consciously battling the darker forces within
her psyche. Nobody can ever really understand what happens in someone else’s
head, but Petra Costa will try nonetheless throughout her impressionistic
documentary, Elena (trailer here), which opens this
Friday at the IFC Center.
the daughter of leftist revolutionaries, Elena Costa’s early years were
rootless and secretive. Perhaps coming to New York City to pursue an acting
career represented a form of rebellion against her rebellious parents.
Unfortunately, despite the support of her family and new friends in the City,
Costa was not able to make it here. Eventually, Costa’s mother and her younger
sister joined her in New York, but they were not able to dispel whatever ghosts
none of the Costas have finished processing their grief. Yet, Petra Costa follows
in her sister’s footsteps, returning to New York to study acting. Of course,
she is highly attuned to the parallels between their lives. Indeed, she is
almost obsessed with them.
Elena can be divided into two nearly
equal segments. Throughout the first half, Costa tries to recreate her sister
through the audition videos, home movies, and audio tapes sent home in lieu of
letters. It is quite remarkable how well documented her tragically short life was,
at a time when cell phones had yet to become a ubiquitous presence in daily
life (and might have facilitated communication at vital junctures had they been
available). It is a deeply compelling expression of guilt and mourning.
Elena the film loses some of it
power, as well as a measure of its visual luster, when it segues into an
examination of the filmmaker’s personal sense of bereavement. Although viewers
are supposed to get metaphorically lost in the distinction between the sisters,
it never really happens on a practical level.
For the most part, Elena is quite a carefully composed film. It also has an important
de-stigmatizing message regarding the perils of depression, particularly for
those with artistic sensibilities. Earnest and unexpectedly ambitious, Elena should not be dismissed as
navel-gazing, but it remains undeniably uneven. Recommended for those who
appreciate deeply personal cinema, Elena opens
this Friday (5/30) in New York at the IFC Center.
Labels: Brazilian Cinema, Documentary