by Jaime Grijalba.
Exit Elena (2012, Nathan Silver) Seen through a screener provided by the director.
First of all, to all the people in the United States, may you have a happy 4th of July, and don’t forget what you’re celebrating, and that’s the fact that a bunch of slave-owning, aristocratic, white males didn’t want to pay their taxes. There goes all the fun I wanted to have. To the rest of the world, let’s just say that it’s another day in the calendar, a week day is a work day and we must always look forward to what today can give us, but we usually do find a way or another to be affected by the always tainted date of the 4th of July, either be by the constant reminders from friends from the upper continet or by Google by changing its color scheme to match the most original combination of colors and simbols to represent ones country: red, blue, white and stars. How else could I celebrate this week’s magnus event than by reviewing a movie that is coming out in the States in some select theaters, and it’s also a movie produced and acted exclusively by american white producers, director and actors, how much joy and pride we can get out of this film? Well, the fact that it’s watchable is already a good prospect for today, I guess, it’s enough for me, and I’m having the sensation that this might be the best film that will be released this week in our dear country (just taking a look at the list at hand doesn’t proove me too wrong: Absence, Big Star: Nothing Can Hurt Me, Despicable Me 2, A Girl & a Gun, Just Like a Woman, Kevin Hart: Let me Explain, The Lone Ranger, The Look of Love, Stuck in Love, The Way Way Back) but hey, I could be wrong, but do take this recommendation, it may the best way to celebrate AMERICA!‘Exit Elena’ (2012) is directed by indie no-budget mumblecore included american filmmaker Nathan Silver, who has been making films for a few years now, and this might be considered his biggest break alongside his other 2012 film ‘Soft in the Head’ (2012), as they were accepted and played in film festivals from all around the world, being the one in which it caught my eye the Buenos Aires International Independent Film Festival of this year, where this particular film played in the main competition, loosing to ‘Berberian Sound Studio’ (2012) for the major prize in the end. Me, personally, didn’t have a particular interest in seeing it, but when the festival was over I contacted Nathan Silver himself to see if he had any link to an online screener, because I was curious and wanted to be able to see the whole slate of films in competition at the festivals, and while that latest goal was somewhat accomplished (5 films short), I did get a response from Nathan a few minutes after I sent the email, where he gave me access to a private screener of his film (and also a link to his other 2012 film that I’m catching up with as I write this). I watched it and I have written a capsule review that went when I did the full roundup of the films in competition that I watched at the BAFICI a few weeks back. Now, I didn’t expect this to get some kind of release, but now that it has, I can expand my views on it, at least, a bit.
I haven’t had much experience with nurses in my past, but I’ve had some, my aunt is one and she is proud of the work she does, and I also had some near-ish experience with the assistant kind of nurses, when my grandmother was sick, at the start of her convalecence, when she was needing much support that neither I nor my family could give her, we were forced to hire an aid, a nurse that would be able to help her in any way possible. At the start, we had one that was very nice but she had to go away, back to her country of origin, and when her replacement came it was a disaster; later on, we also had to hire someone, but it was a disaster as well, they fell asleep and didn’t listen to anything that my grandmother said, they even treated her badly somehow, we didn’t like them so we just simply fired her after a couple of days of ineffectiveness. The main character of the film is a nurse assistant called Elena, which we see in the first minutes taking her final exam to become one, where she takes the pressure and blood out of a patient, and then we see how she is quickly assigned to take care of an old woman that is very sick, and the hospital that she is part of has made her available for any help at all. The thing is that Elena has to practically move inside to the house and become a live-in aide, and so it becomes the plot of the film: her relations and life inside of the house that tries to accept and live with this new presence that takes care of the matriarch of the family.
The film manages to create a feeling regarding its main character, Elena, in terms of what she actually thinks and believes in her mind regarding her work as a nurse asssistant/live-in aide. We don’t know if she likes the job or if she hates it, we know that she does it the best way she can, and maybe that’s not enough for the standards of the people contracting her. She finds herself many times in trouble regarding towards the ways in which she has to treat the elderly lady, and it’s telling how the first scene plays with the elements of experience and actual knowledge of Elena, because of how simple the exam seemed to be compared to all the things she has to do here to please the family. Nevertheless, as time passes, we see how a connection starts to be created between Elena and the family, how they become interested in her personal life and what goes beyond her stay there. There are some very tense and awkward moments when the head of the house constantly interrogates Elena about a date that she just had with a boy she likes, and it’s acted in a very naturalistic way, the same way in which the camera moves and frames the characters, almost like in a documentary, following them and framing their heads as they go through their lives and the things they have to do, almost too intrusively at times.
With time her life inside the house turns a bit claustrophobic in terms of the motherly figure, mentioned in the paragraph above, that tries to control and put her wing above her head, taking Elena in as another daughter, which is reacted by our protagonist in a very accepting yet awkward manner. If there’s something I have against the film is its passive protagonist, she doesn’t seem to be reactive in any moment of the film, she gives a great performance, and her pasiveness is interesting as well as fascinating in terms of constructing a character, but the fact that she is the protagonist bums me out a bit, in terms of how she doesn’t seem likeable at any time. It is excruciating to see how at the first sign of trouble or dissent she is fired and taken out of the house, no matter how much (fake?) sentiments the family may have had with Elena after their weeks together, and what happens after is maybe the most interesting part of the film and a true show of the economical crisis and it’s effects in the common man or woman. The film itself is still a bit lackluster in terms of how murky the picture looks and how the main character is a bit passive, but in the end, you can still watch it and see how much (true) independent filmmaking can do with a tiny budget but with a passion to transmit an idea, a performance and a director’s vision/style. (***1/2)