By Humberto Mendez – Prophecy Girl Films – 9/10/2014
On October 7th, the International Documentary Association screened “Elena”, an artistic documentary narrated by Director Petra Costa. Along with old home videos, dream-like recreations were used to go along with Petra’s narration. The subject of the film, Elena, was the sister of the director, and the film is a very intimate tale about Elena’s suicide and how it affected her and her family.
The film is Executive Produced by Tim Robbins, who hopped on board after Petra Costa sent him a copy of the film. Robbins was very interested in the conflict in Brazil, and much of the initial cuts of the film depicted Elena’s parents in Brazil as they dealt with conflict there. Unfortunately, most of the Brazil footage did not make the final cut of the film. Tim Robbins, however, still believed in the film and stuck around as Executive Producer.
The novelty of the film is in the stylish way it is told, but the way the film is presented takes it away from the documentary realm and goes more into an experimental narrative. Another thing that sets “Elena” apart from other films is that the blame for the suicide is partly put on Elena’s parents. Her parents were Communists fighting the dictatorship in Brazil and, as a way to protect their daughters in case they were killed, they weren’t as loving as “they should have been”. For me, however, this was a disturbing reason for suicide. I had just seen the documentary “Rocks In My Pockets”, that better deals with suicide and how it is a disease rather than something that comes out of lack of love. The fact that depression was not the cause of Elena’s suicide, and rather the cause was the fact that she was “unloved” really bothered me. Especially because Elena was loved – her sister made a whole film about her!
Overall, I felt that the added dream-like sequences took away from what could have been a more powerful familial look into depression and suicide. Instead, the film is a personal letter to the directors sister, and the audience are spectators intruding into a private world that sometimes feels very far away from us.
“Elena” is worth a watch, but it is better to go into the film knowing what you’re about to see, rather than walking in unaware.