Directed by Anahi Berneri, Elena Knows makes us privy to certain harsh realities of our lives and also of the society that we live in. There are a few feelings that, personally, I hope and pray that nobody has to ever face in their lifetime. One of them is the kind of bereavement a parent experiences after they lose their child. The Netflix film is based on Claudia Pineiro’s novel of the same name, and though I haven’t read it, it was quite evident that a lot of things had been cut short, and only the essence of it was depicted in the film. Now, those who have read the acclaimed novel would definitely find it a notch above the film (so we suppose). I believe that somewhere, the film could have taken more time and delved deeper into aspects like the harrowing bureaucracy, the issues that come with old age, the loneliness, the fear of abandonment, and the mental health issues that if cooked on a slow flame, would have given the audience a chance to get even more impacted. One of the few criticisms that the film could have was that it just touched bases, making sure that it didn’t miss out on any element mentioned in the novel, and moreover, it never let the audience completely soak in perspective and get agitated at the idiocy of how society functions.
Elena was a difficult woman to deal with, and we are never told in the film what led her to become like that. She is not an evil person; she doesn’t want her daughter to suffer, yet she is very unsympathetically authoritative in her ways and means and often turns a blind eye to the feelings of Rita. Rita, for the longest time, was bothered with her mother’s cold behavior, and at times, she wanted to hear why she was so indifferent about everything. The taunts and the sarcasm never stopped, and even if Elena realized her mistake, she never apologized but just toned down her voice and stayed quiet. But then, one day, all of a sudden, the news came that Rita had committed suicide, and Elena, as usual, didn’t know how to process her own emotions. Maybe Elena had always known the reality, but she chose to harbor her delusion because it was easier than accepting the truth. Elena kept giving herself the affirmation that it was not her fault, time and again, but in the end, she had no option but to face reality. When the police officer, Rita’s friends, and everybody else from the entire town didn’t vouch for her claims, Elena decided to go and meet an old friend of Rita named Isabel. How much she wanted to escape her own feelings was made evident by the kind of excruciatingly tiring journey she undertook to go and see Isabel.
Gabriela Larralde’s screenplay is crisp and moves at a good pace, but somehow, I personally believe that there are many beautiful and meatier aspects that she should have dug into more. We caught a glimpse of how Rita was fed up with bureaucracy, and in a very beautifully designed scene, we saw her crying when everything went well, as she realized that she did not have to fight or argue with the person in authority. The irony in this scene was that the system that was made for our convenience was, most of the time, the biggest obstacle in our way. Even when the police officer told Elena that she would have to hire a lawyer to reopen Rita’s case, for a moment, she did not know whether to get angry or to lash out at him for the absurdities of the system. In the novel, we believe that more than the murder mystery, stress is laid on the nitty-gritty details of the society we live in and the journey undertaken by Elena to visit Isabel. The Netflix film Elena Knows, on the other hand, was not able to emphasize on either of the aspects, and that is why, somewhere, it didn’t impact me in the manner I hoped it would.
Mercedes Miran as Elena and Erica Rivas as Rita are just spectacular throughout the film. It’s not the scene where Rita breaks down, but the ones where the stress builds inside her that creates all the magic. As for Miran, she accentuates the scenes through her performance. There are times when you just want to shake her up and ask her why she is treating her daughter like that. Elena is a complicated person, and there are many layers to her personality. It was important for the actor to understand the pulse of the character, as there was a huge possibility that the audience would have misunderstood it as being evil or cruel in her approach. Elena was selfish and stubborn and often imposed herself on her daughter, but she loved her in her own crooked way. At least, that’s what we perceive from the narrative. We loved Ana Remon’s editing, and the scenes where Elena is reminiscing about the times she had spent with her daughter almost seamlessly flow with the narrative, and never even once did it feel that the back and forth was getting a bit too much.
I personally believe that Anahi Berneri could have done a much better job because the written material the film is inspired by is of such high caliber. I would have loved it if more layers of the characters were revealed and we got details that gave us clarity about what frustrated them, what their mindset was, and what drove their motives. We understand the abstract approach taken by the director to portray the absurdities of life, but we just feel that the entire affair could have been more personal, heartfelt, and hard-hitting, though we still do not take anything from what the entire team has been able to achieve. Elena Knows is a thoughtful film that evokes a lot of emotions and certainly deserves to be watched.