The film ELENA and delicateness

By Camilo Vannuchi – Epoca Magazine – 19/10/2012


Winner of the Audience Award for Best Documentary at the Brasília Film Festival, 2012, Petra Costa’s first feature film showing as of May 2013 on the commercial cicuit throughout Brazil and in upcoming international festivals, is said here by journalist Vannuchi to “indicate a promising path for the future documentary”

She was beautiful. She liked dancing, did theater in São Paulo, Brazil, and dreamed of being a Hollywood actress. When she turned 13, she got a video camera—and a sister. They became a real twosome in experimentations. As an adolescent, Elena spent a lot of time creating short films and took special care directing little Petra in the scenes she invented. She was demanding and believed in her sister’s potential to meet with her raptures as precocious director. For five years, she acted in some of the best São Paulo theater productions. She also auditioned for a few film and TV parts. She was never called. Elena was 20 years old when, at the start of 1990, she moved to New York to further her studies in performing arts and strive for her chance in the American market. Out of place, anxious, frustrated after some unsuccessful acting auditions, disappointed over the lack of recognition and overtaken by a depression that deepened with the lack of perspectives, Elena committed suicide in the second half of the year.

Petra was 7. Twenty years later it is she, the baby sister, who returns to New York to retrace her sister’s last steps, look through her archives and transform her memories into images and poetry.


ELENAis a film about a sister who departs and a sister who stays. It’s a film about searching, loss, missing, but also, about finding, about legacy, what is passed on, memory. A film about Petra’s Elena and Elena’s Petra, about what remained of one in the other, and essentially, a film about delicateness. At the competitive Brasilia Film Festival, 2012, ELENA took top prizes in the feature documentary category: Audience Award for Best Documentary, Best Film director, Best Art Direction, and Best Editing. Now it arrives with 3 showings at São Paulo’s International Film Festival, October 20 through the 22, 2012.

With more than 350 entries in the Film Festival this year, it is understandable that the focus of film aficionados and the press turn to foreign rarities with little chance of making it on the commercial circuit, or to recent cult productions with their faithful following. ELENA may not be in the spotlights, but is at par with and surpasses some of the films presented by the best Brazilian filmmakers. And it indicates a promising path for the future documentary: taking to the screen personal stories in which affection is more relevant than reporting, and substituting the staid, worn tone of traditional biographies by an involving mosaic of sounds and images, forms and content, research and delirium.

The first feature film by Petra Costa, also director of the short Olhos de Ressaca, the new ELENA is built of old fragments, dug up by Petra from what was left by her sister: home videos, excerpts from a diary registered by Elena on audio tapes, old pictures that have undergone the ravages of two decades in oblivion. It is also a film that shows, in recent images, the course taken by Petra to rediscover Elena: accounts by family and friends, an emotional and deeply human message by her mother, a visit made by the production team to the house and the hospital where the tragic end happens. Elena did not get to act in front of cameras in 1990. Now, under the precise direction of her younger sister, she finally triumphs on the screen. “Of uncommon beauty, the film stays with us for a long time,” wrote about it filmmaker Walter Salles. “It provokes 60 insights per minute,” said film director Fernando Meirelles. To let yourself be taken in by the insights, involve yourself with Elena for as long as it takes, is a must.


Translated by Robin Geld (read the original text, in Portuguese, right here).



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