Thursday, May 29, 2014

Impressionistic Tribute to Memories

Elena (2012) - Costa
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 It's a difficult job to create a documentary with a subject that is so close to its maker without coming across as a little too precious. Indeed, there are many moments in Elena that could be regarded as self-indulgent. But no one can deny that Elena is breathtakingly beautiful, one of a kind documentary.

Elena tells a story about 20 year old Brazilian actress who comes to New York to pursue her acting career. She leaves behind her younger sister Petra and mom. She falls into hard times. More than twenty years later, Petra, now an actress herself, a filmmaker and a dead ringer for her sister, traces her big sister's footsteps in NY, trying to reconstruct who Elena was and also to find herself along the way.

While watching the film, one can really feel the tough decisions the director had to make: should Elena be a straightforward chronicle of the young woman's life or should it be fleeting, abstract expression of preserving one's memories. Even with loads of home video footage, voice recordings and voice overs, Elena doesn't quite work as a fact based documentary. Instead, Costa aims for an impressionistic tribute to the memories of her sister whose absence made a great impact on her life. The combination is a mixed bag.

Costa keeps everything dream-like and fleeting. It's the poetic images - twirling bodies, sundresses flowing under water, green grass and cherry blossoms in the summer that takes the center stage. And the images are often breathtaking. It would've worked better as a short performance video art called, "Memories Dissolving into Water: a Tribute to My Sister Elena". I really hope Costa gets to make some more films, there is no denying that she is a bright new talent to keep an eye on.

Elena is distributed by Variance Films. It opens on Friday May 30 at IFC Center. Roll out to other cities will follow.

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