Exit Elena, 2012.
Directed by Nathan Silver.
Starring Nathan Silver, Kia Davis, Jim Chiros, Barbara White, Gert O’Connell, Cindy Silver and Lawrence Balin.
Elena, a newly qualified live-in nurse, moves in with the Akerman family to nurse their aging grandmother. Unfortunately, the clingy mother makes it difficult for her to stay professional.
Exit Elena is a deliciously understated film. With a premise that involves primarily just one location, the house, and a select cast, it feels very intimate. Most of the dialogue is improvised, and so the whole film feels more like a fly-on-the-wall documentary than a work of fiction. Nathan Silver plays ‘an exaggerated version of himself ten years ago’, and his mother is played by his real-life mother, Cindy Silver. His father is played by a family friend, Jim Chiros, and is the only professional actor on set. The amateur nature of the cast would normally worry me, but here Silver seems to have found a collection of the most talented amateurs in the industry.
Kia Davis, playing Elena, is exquisite. We begin with seeing her qualify, and her joy and excitement to be beginning her first job. Then, as she becomes more and more burdened with family politics, politeness and an overly amorous Nathan, we can feel her frustration at not being able to just do her job. Her interaction with Cindy is heart-breakingly awkward; if Cindy is as over-bearing in this film as she is in real life, I pity Nathan Silver!
Silver also, unusually, uses a 4:3 ratio for the film. This creates the feel of a home video, as if it were filmed on a family camcorder by some unseen member of the family. This makes the scenes feel even more intimate, and actually quite full, which reflects the lack of space Elena herself has in the house. There is rarely more than a foot of distance between her and another character, making her eternal quest for privacy felt. In one of the early scenes, Elena is finally getting to bed, and she takes out her sketchbook to draw. It’s only a few moments before Cindy pops in, in a fetching nightgown, to tell Elena not to shut her door fully, because it jams, and it would be dangerous in a fire. Within minutes, she’s back, to tell Elena that the room is stuffy and she should turn the air conditioning on. She comes back a few minutes later to reiterate these messages, and poor Elena seems fit to burst with forced politeness.
This film is a delightful exploration of the nature of a live-in nurse’s work, apparently inspired by Silver’s grandmother, who also had live-in carers. It’s delicate, subtle, and funny, in the cringey way of The Office, or Curb Your Enthusiasm, with a gratifying finish. Definitely worth a watch.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie ★ ★ ★ ★