By Charles Mudede – The Stranger – 8/6/2014
This documentary is too intimate, too beautiful, and too sad. It’s about Elena Costa, a young Brazilian actress and dancer who committed suicide in 1990 in New York City. She was born in 1969. Her parents were Marxist radicals who fled Brazil during a crackdown on leftist artists. Her younger sister, Petra, was born in 1983, long after her parents had returned to Brazil and become members of the upper middle class. Petra Costa is the director and narrator of Elena, which has footage of the sisters when they were young, when they danced in the sunny living room of their big house, and when they lived in New York City in the late ’80s. Their mother, as a young woman, also had the dream of becoming a movie star; after the dream came to nothing, she married a man who had dreams of creating a new society, and that dream also came to nothing. These political and artistic failures were eventually joined by the failure of the marriage. Elena seems to have handled this break badly. She also seems to have never been fully alive, but always something of a ghost. She knew her time in this world of people, cities, theaters, and painful auditions and rejections was not long. Elena was, like the film, too beautiful and too sad.