Director: Nathan Silver
Writer: Nathan Silver, Kia Davis
Cast: Kia Davis, Cindy Silver, Nathan Silver
Simplicity is the key strength of Exit Elena, a short feature directed by Nathan Silver, who also plays a version of himself with a different surname. Silver co-wrote the film with the lead actress, Kia Davis, who plays the eponymous character, and it also stars his mother, Cindy Silver, again as herself. The real life relationships among the small cast help to create the sense of documentary reality that permeates the film, as the characters are gradually drawn into a web of intimacy that we never doubt for a second.
Elena is initially hired as a nurse to care for Jim’s (Jim Chiros) elderly mother, Florence (Barbara White), but it quickly becomes clear that the family require more than a professional relationship. Elena remains an ambiguous figure and almost nothing is revealed of her origins or motivations, which proves frustrating for the other characters but interesting for the audience. She has an air of being lost, displaced and alone, but we are given no indication as to why that might be.
The narrative progresses extremely well, as moments of drama and changes in tone are introduced before the audience have any opportunity to lose interest. Silver deftly brings out different sides to the characters just as the film needs to step up the intimacy, but the guarded dialogue ensures we never come close to feeling that we know all there is to know. The characters are familiar yet distant, like genuine acquaintances we have never had the opportunity to learn more about.
The drama is kept minimal and deals solely with everyday social situations, but becomes quietly powerful towards the end. The final scene is the only one which is ostensibly staged, but we accept it as real because that tone has been sustained for so long. It is a poignant, strangely liberating moment, even though Elena’s future remains very much up in the air.
The performances are vital to the film’s authenticity, and ensure it never deviates from absolute realism. The discomfort and claustrophobia of being confined in a small house with strange, or estranged, people is prominent in the early scenes, and the peculiar dependence that develops between the characters is believably executed, despite the blurring of normal social boundaries. It is Cindy Silver who gives the stand out performance, as her character develops from a fussy, overbearing housewife into a complex, likeable woman.
Silver resists the temptation to stretch the film out longer than is needed, keeping the runtime down to a modest 70 minutes. There is little excess, with the exception of some unnecessary date and title frames, meaning it remains focused on what it is trying to portray. The result is a meticulously observed piece of realism and as genuine a film as you are likely to see. Despite its tiny budget and refusal to resort to artifice, Exit Elena is a compelling portrait that never misses a beat.