Aspirations of Home in Post-Soviet Russia: Domestic Spaces and National Resonances in Andrei Zviagintsev’s Elena
This article analyses the role of domestic living space and its connection with identity in the Russian feature film Elena (Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2011), winner of the Grand Jury Prize at the 2011 Cannes Film Festival. The film uses a spatially symmetrical structure based on two separate apartments frequented by the film’s eponymous heroine, both of which represent distinct socioeconomic and historical aspects of Soviet and Post-Soviet life. The first is Elena’s husband’s large, modern, upmarket and centrally located apartment that is as cold, tomb-like and indeed lifeless as it is chic. The second is her son’s older, tiny, squalid relic of the Soviet past situated on the periphery, with its claustrophobic walls providing a sense of human contact and warmth, despite its toxic air of decadence, indolence and violence. As in the earlier Russian film Little Vera (Vasili Pichul, 1988), it will be argued that in Elena, identity is inextricably linked with physical living space in a specifically Russian context. Elena is an ironic ode to the apartment, both Soviet and modern. Drawing on Marc Auge’s theory of the non-place, it will be argued that the universal aspiration to live in comfort, while human and understandable, is shown, in the post-Soviet landscape depicted by Zvyagintsev’s powerful film, to result in a form of living death.
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