Elena * * * *
Cert 12A, 109 mins
Only director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s second film since his brilliant study of two brothers in The Return (2002), Elena illustrates the gulf in modern Russia between those who have money and the flat-bound who do not.
Nurse Elena (Nadezhda Markina) is bitter that after his heart attack, her older and richer second husband wants to leave most of his money to his own estranged daughter – while she will only get an annuity.
Which means, effectively, that she won’t be able to pay for her grandson not to be in the army.
Though very Russian, there is an extremely universal story at the heart of this film – that parents often want to do the best they can for their own children, even if, as per one of the curses of modern Britain, it means trying to fund a ‘thick’ child into university at any price.
There’s also a deep flavour of Alexander Payne’s 2002 film, About Schmidt, in which the newly-retired Jack Nicholson wonders about his rediscovered wife of 42 years: ‘Who is this old woman who lives in my house? Why is it that every little thing she does irritates me...‘...I hate the way she sits. And I hate the way she smells’.
The intrigue here is that when two adults abhor each other’s children, then second-time marriages can create genuine hidden depth charges that can go off at any time.
One scene, when Elena is trying to resolve her situation with patient turned partner Vladimir (Andrey Smirnov), is as good as any I’ve seen all year.
The same goes for the now 53-year-old Markina’s remarkable performance which will root you to your seat just as much as any of those big action sequences in Skyfall.
A bonus here is that the Russian language is one of the softest on the ears in world cinema.
Throw in a score by Philip Glass – a triple Oscar-nominee for Kundun, The Hours and Notes on a Scandal – and this is one of the year’s highlights at the MAC in Cannon Hill Park where it’s playing from Tuesday to Thursday next week. GY
My Brother The Devil * * * *
Cert 15, 112 mins
Winner of the Best British newcomer award at the London Film Festival, Egyptian-Welsh screenwriter and director Sally El Hosaini’s debut feature opened at Showcases last week with no regional press previews.
But from tomorrow (FRI), this story of two Egyptian brothers coming of age moves on to the Odeon Broadway Plaza where it deserves to be seen.
Based in Hackney, El Hosaini’s film is as often as raw as some of the young actors who have clearly been drawn from all sorts of cultural backgrounds.
The violence, is, at times, horrific, too.
But if you look at that kind of thing in a Shakespearean context, in this instance, then the good news is that My Brother The Devil is head and shoulders above many films of this nature, including Adulthood and Kidulthood.
As the siblings Rashid and Mo, there are fine performances from James Floyd (The Infidel) and debut star Fady Elsayed (Mo).
The talented David Raedeker won the cinematography prize at Sundance.
My Brother The Devil certainly won’t solve youth crime, but as well as touching upon everything from homophobia to terrorism and the merits of bacon, it delivers a heart-touching degree of optimism that’s all too rare for this genre. GY
Here Comes The Boom *
Cert 12A, 105 mins
This alleged ‘comedy’ bears the fingerprints of Kevin James’ regular co-star Adam Sandler (Grown Ups / Hotel Transylvania).
Sandler merely has an executive producer credit here and thankfully doesn’t add to the agony by appearing on screen himself.
Directed by Frank Coraci, who made Sandler’s The Waterboy and The Wedding Singer, the story is about Scott Voss, a 42-year-old biology teacher who decides to start fund-raising in a bid to keep a colleague in a job.
Fair enough, but none of the background elements make sense.
The paternal thread for the ageing, long-haired fellow music teacher Marty Streb (Henry Winkler) is ludicrous.
As is the reason for the cuts at their school which sends Voss into a kind of good samaritan apoplexy.
Why else would he voluntarily become a cage fighter in a bid to earn money?
Here Comes the Boom has a few moments of It’s A Knockout-style slapstick stupidity, but never threatens to become a Rocky-fied cross between Mr Holland’s Opus and School of Rock.
It is, in the end, merely the kind of film that once it’s on DVD will end up as necessarily mindless fodder for bench-pressing numbskulls to watch in a gym. GY