Review by Marion Schreiber – FILMbutton – 6/6/2014
Elena is a film about her life, Petra Costa’s life and the relationship that she had (has) with her sister. It’s a family portrait which tells Elena’s life through her sister Petra’s eyes. Elena is a young Brazilian girl who lived in a troubled political environment with her parents whom were committed to the Communist Party. When she was 15 years old, Elena had the habit of filming every moment spent with her family and especially her new baby sister, but suddenly she stopped filming because of the separation of her parents.
She started to build her dance career and became important & renowned in Brazil. But Elena was constantly dissatisfied, according to her sister, something was always missing…but what? That’s what Elena tried to find out in New York ,keeping in mind, she also wanted to be actress like her mother. So, Elena left behind her life in Brazil and her 7 years old sister. It is from this point that everything changes in her and her sister’s life.
Petra tells the story of her sister with home movies, newspaper clippings, a diary and letters. She tells how her sister falls step by step into solitude, depression and despair of not living through the arts and finally came to the decision of suicide.
This is an authentic film, which mixes home movies & current scenes to create an extremely intimate portrait of Petra’s family. Their is a voyeuristic feel for the viewer in which we feel like a spectator to Petra’s life. Through very particular filming techniques we see through Petra’s eyes, which is at the same time disturbing and fascinating. Through out the film Petra talks directly to her sister, and we see the impact her death took on her and her mother.
The heavy impact of Elena’s death on Petra manifests itself in feelings of guilt, depression and uncontrollable fears but fear of what? Fear of following her sister? Fear of losing somebody that she loves? It’s now time for Petra to analyse herself because she is walking in her sister’s footsteps. Indeed, she did theatre study; she went to New York in hopes to find her sister dancing in the streets. We notice that the features of the two sisters are confused now; we no longer know one from the other. In fact, at the same age of Elena, Petra resembled her sister in every way physically but it doesn’t stop there. Petra started having the same anxieties, she couldn’t sleep and had a constant pain in her chest. From that point a feeling of suffocation and misunderstanding of her & her sister’s life set in.
That’s why she asked herself in her film “What’s my role in this film?” But isn’t it really the film about Petra’s life? Isn’t it a way of bringing back her sister to life? All these questions from this film accumulate again and again to end by a scream, a scream to life which is fighting against an inconsolable souvenir. Petra Costa through this film revives a ghost in her last dance in swirling and twisting on herself to be one with it, her life and her love to her sister. So, we are voyeurs and assist in an exorcism of Elena’s spirit so Petra can let her go and move on.
As a spectator, we are on a tightrope dancing between the limits of curiosity and discomfort watching this bruised family story unfold. This is a fabulous movie both in aesthetics, narrative and the metaphors made to present a simple message that one can relate too. It’s an open book to Petra Costa’s life, fascinating, intimate and touching which deserves to be watched and, hopefully, understood.