The eponymous heroine of Elena (Nadezhda Markina) lives in a comfortable apartment in Moscow with her husband Vladimir (Andrei Smirnov). They met while she was a nurse and he was ill: Their marriage is muted, born more out of convenience than passion.
Both have children from previous marriages. She has a son (Alexey Rozin), shiftless and lazy. He has a daughter (Yelena Lyadova), spoiled and temperamental. Their love for their respective kids will create friction between the couple. But their relationship seems curiously rigid about them from the start: Something here is not quite right.
Elena is the third film from Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev, whose 2003 debut The Return used a similarly nondescript style to sneak up on the viewer. As a story teller, Zvyagintsev is fascinated by the points in our lives when we are forced to take sides — or even drastic action — in order to protect our families. But where Hollywood movies underline every emotion and potential crisis, Elena opts for subtlety and restraint. This is a quiet, powerful film about the lengths we’ll go to for the sake of the people we love — and the depths we’ll sink to for the sake of the ones we hate.