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Elena’s visual brilliance treats its painful theme beautifully…

By Steen Müller at 12/23/2012


There is so much to say about this first feature documentary by young Brazilian director Petra Costa. So much positive because of its visual brilliance and so much because of the way it treats its painful theme. Not to talk about the discussions that the film creates about important existential questions. Yet it would be wrong and far too prosaic to reveal too much of the journey the director invites the viewer to take. Therefore these words from the website of the film:

“Elena, a young Brazilian woman, travels to New York with the same dream as her mother, to become a movie actress. She leaves behind her childhood spent in hiding during the years of the military dictatorship. She also leaves Petra, her seven year old sister. Two decades later, Petra also becomes an actress and goes to New York in search of Elena. She only has a few clues about her: home movies, newspaper clippings, a diary and letters. At any moment Petra hopes to find Elena walking in the streets in a silk blouse. Gradually, the features of the two sisters are confused; we no longer know one from the other. When Petra finally finds Elena in an unexpected place, she has to learn to let her go.”

The film journey is built around an enormous family archive with beautiful images, among them of the big sister (Elena) holding/caressing the little sister (Petra), interviews with their mother, diaries, recreated, often dreamerish scenes and a wonderfully written and performed voice-over text by Petra, or is it Elena, or both? It is a film about undergoing a mental process, a therapeutical film, a film about three women, mother and two daughters, all three of them aiming for a career in art.



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