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Seen in Pittsburgh: ‘Elena’ (2011)

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I think the largest question left looming for me after seeing Elena is something like, “Does the Philip Glass score make sense?” This question is probably inappropriate or indiscreet, since several big questions linger in the wake of the film’s abrupt, apocalyptic ending. And yet the question of the appropriateness of Glass’s score is central to my sorting through the film.

It is a Philip Glass score that sounds like Philip Glass. (In fact, his third symphony is cited in the end credits, so perhaps this “original score” isn’t quite original.) It blasts and heaves and sparkles when it appears, abruptly, usually in traveling scenes (Elena riding here, Vladimir driving there). The soundtrack for the rest of the film is a peppering of fabric moving, dishes clacking, infants spitting, black birds. So when the Glass shows up, it feels like an intrusion, alarm-triggering. “Wake up,” it yells. “Art!”

This is a cynical reading of Glass’s score. The interpretation bluntly intended for us, I think, based on a blurb I saw that describes the score as “Hitchcockian,” is that we read the score as “building tension.” A third reading jumps from here: the score misleads us into believing that the film is about the obvious tension (that which exists between Elena and Vladimir over his material wealth) in order for the ending to shock us more distinctly. The final twenty minutes throw us into confusion: the surveilled death of a white horse, darkness, violent children playing precious games.