Petra Costa’s film ELENA
By Vanessa McMahon – Film Festivals – 3/20/2014
Edited down from 200 hours of footage to 83 minutes, the film is visually stunning with every shot edited to create cinematic poetry.
ELENA is told through the eyes of Petra Costa from her years as a seven year-old looking up to her then teen actress sister, Elena Andrade, to her own years as a young adult in search of her sister’s lost soul. When Petra was seven, Elena left Brazil for an acting career in New York. As a young aspiring actress from Brazil, Elena Andrade had her whole life ahead of her and everything any young woman could ask for- youth, beauty, exotic allure, exceptional talent and an attractive (though dangerous) melancholy.
While in NY, Elena got close to Hollywood when she began to frequent the film industry’s most famous directors and players. She soon learned, however, that success in film would mean many years of patience and a constant vacillation between feelings of worthlessness, insecurity and inflated egos in the face of a career entirely dependent on the choice of casting directors and whimsical filmmakers. Elena’s art began to suffer with the dramatic highs and lows of the film industry until this once ‘always dancing, always singing’ happy artistic soul, thus described by her idolizing younger sister, became stifled and distant to the point of muteness and immobility. Elena was so troubled by the depth of her cancerous melancholy in the face of the constant rejection she faced in NY’s film world that when she felt she would never have the ability to live as the artist she felt she was, she contemplated taking her own life.
In the form of a lyrical soliloquy at times inspired by the imagery of a drowning Ophelia from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, ELENA is poignantly and stylishly told. Petra Costa lived many years with a chasm in her heart left by her sister’s passing. The making of this film and all its poetic cinematic language is a loving tribute to her beloved late sister. While the film focuses on one actress in the grand and daunting city of NY, it is symbolic for the fragile existence of an artist’s voice that becomes muted and drowns under the stifling cloak of a mere subsisting existence, questioning what it really means to be an artist, a life that without creation and cathartic release is no life worth living.