Exit Elena

Exit Elena


Reviewed by: Robert Munro

Filmed in 4:3 television format and with a hand-held documentary feel, Exit Elena revels in the naturalism of its form and its performances. Indeed a cursory glance at the film’s IMDB page reveals that the director plays a version of himself, and his mother is cast as the matriarch of the house into which Elena (Kia Davis) finds herself thrust.

Elena is a newly qualified nursing assistant who becomes a live-in nurse at the Ackerman home, working with a grandmother who has mobility difficulties. Elena herself is a bit of an enigma. She’s quiet, introverted, and keeps a sort-of amused distance between herself and the family.

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But that’s not always easy with Cindy (Cindy Silver) around. She’s a brilliantly observed slice-of-life character. In fact, she’s so brilliantly observed that you wonder whether the director (and her son) Nathan Silver gave her any direction at all or just asked her to potter about being all motherly. There’s something endlessly endearing about the matter-of-fact Jewish shtick that tumbles out naturally from the family.

On inviting Elena to live with the family in order to look after her step-mother, Cindy neglects to inform husband Jim (Jim Chiros) of the decision. Jim’s response is an exaggerated shrug. “First the cat, and now this?” But beneath the nagging banter there’s something rather more profound which seems to trouble the family - something that, in the manner of real family life, is never really discussed.

Only when Nathan comes to stay do we get another piece of the jigsaw. A talented yet troubled artist, he’s an unsettling presence within the family dynamic and there’s always an awkward tension whenever he’s around. It is this balancing of a social awkwardness - which provokes comedy and terror at the same time - that makes Exit Elena such a pleasant success.

When Cindy invites Elena to her weekly Zumba fitness/dance class, the preposterousness of Cindy’s moves and Elena’s obvious discomfort is both frightening and damn funny. The credit for this has to go to the quality of the writing, and its subtle and cleverly developed revealing moments. Kia Davis and Nathan Silver both have writing credits and the improvisational feel of many of the film’s best moments gives it a pleasant honesty.

We never get too close to Elena – her past, her future and her aspirations are never truly known to us. Again, this is a credit to the script, as rather than relying on clumsy dialogue to develop character we are treated to more genuine moments of insight. The highlight of these moments arrives when Cindy remembers Elena’s drunken rendition of a folk song and asks her - in that gently encouraging but also slightly intimidating motherly way - to sing it at dinner.

After slight deliberation Elena sings a mournful love song, later revealed to be a Serbian ditty gleaned from her grandmother. The table is, for once, quiet and appreciative, before the family get right back to munching their food – the filmmakers are smart enough not to hit us over the head with these moments. It doesn’t explain a whole lot, but it gives us a wonderful feel for this lost girl and cleverly leads us on to the end of the film.

A refreshingly autobiographical film, which uses the ordinariness of every-day family life to both terrify and amuse, Exit Elena is an intriguing and heartening film. Hopefully it will help enable Silver and Davis to make a few more.

Reviewed on: 06 Jul 2012
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A live-in nurse moves in with a pleasant yet quietly unsettling family to help look after their ailing grandmother.

Director: Nathan Silver

Writer: Nathan Silver & Kia Davis

Starring: Kia Davis, Nathan Silver, Cindy Silver & Jim Chiros

Year: 2012

Runtime: 72 minutes

Country: USA


EIFF 2012

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