Tim Robbins met Brazilian actress-turned-filmmaker Petra Costa at a party last year, towards the end of Berlinale. When Costa handed him a DVD to watch, Robbins wasn’t too thrilled. As a member of the festival jury, he had just been made to watch twenty films — the last thing he wanted to do was watch yet another. Nevertheless, upon returning home, Robbins dutifully watched the DVD and ended up pleasantly surprised.
Robbins relays this anecdote at the beginning of a special featurette in which both he and fellow executive producer Fernando Meirelles, explain what made them decide to throw their support behind Costa’s feature directorial debut, “Elena.”
By combining footage from the film with excerpts from Robbins and Meirelles’ on-camera interviews, the featurette constructs an academic framework around the film. Robbins and Meirelles’ — particularly the latter — approach “Elena” as a study in allusion, emotion and ultimately, perhaps even a challenge to the way in which we conceive of the cinema altogether. Meirelles compares Costa’s sister, Elena — and perhaps, to a certain extent, Costa herself — to the tragic Shakespearian character Ophelia. “It’s the same,” he says, “this person who is getting crazy, who can’t find herself, who doesn’t know who she is anymore and finally she lets go.” Robbins seemingly expounds upon this notion of emotional release via his comment about the film’s narrative, which, he says “takes you to a place that you’re kind of reluctant to go as a person – kind of forces you to face your own demons and your own sadness and your own loss in a way that is ultimately very healthy.”
“It’s more like in an experience, than watching and understanding,” says Meirelles. In fact, Meirelles muses, perhaps the best way to understand the film is by providing it with a new category – one dedicated solely to communicating experience.
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“Elena,” which is being distributed by Syndicado and Variance Films, opens at the IFC Center in New York City tonight, May 30th. The film expand to the Laemmle Royal in Los Angeles on June 13th.