Elena Knows or Elena Sabe in Spanish, is a new Argentinian mystery drama film on Netflix that satisfyingly charts the route of a crime thriller to ultimately be an intense drama about life. The film, which is adapted from Claudia Pineiro’s novel of the same name, follows an elderly woman named Elena, who is shocked by the unnatural fate that her daughter Rita faces. Elena Knows has an interesting narrative style, often mixing up the present and the past, which also resembles the protagonist’s aging memory and her struggles with Parkinson’s. Overall, Elena Knows is an interesting and profound film to watch and contemplate.
Plot Summary: What is the film about?
Elena Knows begins in a crowded train station where an elderly woman walks in, crouched and heavily aided by her sole support, an umbrella. It is evident right away that the woman should not be going around by herself, but she keeps pushing herself further into the station. The regular hustle and bustle of a crowded place like a station is overbearing on her, and yet she goes on. But all the chaos ultimately takes a toll, as the woman faints and falls to the ground. Back at her home, the woman is introduced more, as she happens to be the protagonist of the film, Elena. In the difficult old phase of her life, Elena is burdened some more by her Parkinson’s disease, which has made her slower and more immobile than normal.
Elena’s only support at home and her caregiver is her middle-aged daughter Rita, who regularly visits the woman and attends to all of her needs. Rita stocks up food and drinks for her mother in her refrigerator, and she is the one to accompany the old woman wherever she goes. On this particular day, Rita intends to take Elena to a nearby salon to get her groomed. The mother does not want to leave her house, though, and she keeps stating how Rita herself can groom her. The conversation goes on to such an extent that the daughter breaks down in tears. It is evident that taking care of an elderly woman with Parkinson’s and an unwillingness to cooperate has a mental toll on Rita. It is also because of this realization that Elena quickly agrees, and the two head to the salon.
Since the woman running the place, Mimi, is friends with Rita, Elena is left there for the entire day, with the plan that Rita will return in the evening to pick her up. But even as it gets late and heavy rain pours over the streets, there is no sign of Rita. Mimi and her boyfriend take Elena home as they need to close their business, believing that Rita must have been caught up in some work. However, as the police arrive at Elena’s house that night, it is revealed that the daughter has committed suicide. This is shocking news to Elena, who is sure that her daughter must have been murdered, and she sets out to solve the crime.
Who are the possible suspects in the case?
Elena’s personal investigation into the death of her daughter becomes a significant portion of Elena Knows. The style in which the film unfolds also keeps things unclear, and no direct information is really provided. Rather, numerous incidents from Rita’s past are mentioned, either visually or through conversations, and we are made to stitch things together from these instances. To begin with, details of Rita’s personal life are listed, starting with the fact that she used to work as a teacher at the local school. The woman had herself studied at the same school and had now been working at the place. In terms of her romantic life, the woman faced more difficulties than other girls and women in the town. She was married to a man named Pablo Almada, but this relationship does not seem to have been very fruitful.
Pablo is, in a very natural way of things, a suspect in the supposed murder of Rita, according to her mother, Elena. The husband starts to appear at his mother-in-law’s house, too, helping the elderly woman with her daily life. He appears to be a meek and soft-spoken individual who is also still strongly influenced by his mother in life. There is nothing suspicious or odd about Pablo that Elena can find, and instead, the man keeps trying to help her out with daily chores. Instead, Elena does not seem to be approving of her daughter’s husband in any way. She does gradually accept his help, but that is more out of desperation, for she really needs the support. It is also revealed later on, by Pablo himself, that his and Rita’s marriage had ended about two weeks before the latter’s death. It was Rita who had left Pablo, and the man is not sure whether there was anyone else involved in her life.
Other than Pablo, Rita is also believed, or suggested, to have had a soft spot for the priest of the local church, Father Juan. From her teenage years, Rita had been close to the priest, as she often served and helped in the chores of the church, and it is suggested that she had also developed a romantic interest in him. Nothing was ever possible, though, as Juan was a priest and could, therefore, never have a family or a wife. But still, Rita seemed to have continued to try and pursue Juan, or at least just be friends with him.
It is to be remembered that this suggestion of her interest in the priest comes from the rumors and claims floating around in society, which are not always to be considered true. The schoolgirls discuss the matter in a manner of slander against Rita. Elena, too, believed, in the past, that her daughter was getting attached to the priest. The fact that the two had some interest in themselves is clear from the statement that Juan gives to Elena towards the latter half of Elena Knows. The elderly woman goes in search of an answer to the church, since Rita had been found hanging from one of the towers of the very church. She suggests that Father Juan must have said or done something to the woman, because of which she had taken her own life. Juan says that he had never given any illusions or false promises to Rita, meaning that he had always been clear about his inability to have a family.
The third suspect is a teenager at the school, hailing from the rich and influential Zacotti family of the town. Despite being her teacher at school, Rita would be picked on by this teenage girl, and the latter had even used the influence of her family to make Rita’s professional life very difficult. To make matters even worse, the Zacotti girl had spray-painted the word “virgin” on the wall of Elena’s house as a specific taunt towards Rita. After the woman’s death, Elena is confident that the Zacotti family has something to do with it, and she tries to convince the police about the same. When the authorities refuse to listen, she feels that this is partial treatment on their behalf, for the Zacottis are rich and important people. The woman even confronts the teenager herself and gets ordered by the police to stay away from the school.
How has Elena’s relationship with Rita been?
Gradually, as the plot in Elena Knows progresses, it becomes more apparent that the relationship between the mother and daughter over the past many years is more important in solving the case of the sudden death. It is slowly revealed that Elena had often been a stern mother but could never really be a good companion or friend to her daughter. As the husband, and father, was absent from the household, Elena and Rita only had each other with them. But Elena could not ever become close enough or provide proper support to Rita in times of need. The woman was always quite stern and brutally honest in many instances, which led to more problems for Rita than made her life any easier.
During her school days, Rita’s closest friend had been Isabel Herrera, but the two did not keep in touch after they grew up. The reason for this is also revealed at the end of the film, and this, too, had more to do with how Elena was as an individual. Although Rita and Isabel were almost inseparable because of their strong friendship, Elena never really liked the girl. There were moments when she outright stated that Isabel hung out with and stayed at Rita’s house only so that she could go for sneaky, intimate moments with her boyfriend. When the two girls wanted to shelter and raise an abandoned kitten, Elena refused to let them do so at her house either.
There is a strong suggestion that Elena’s extreme loneliness in her personal life made her want Rita to be lonely as well. In that way, it would be ensured that the daughter would always stay together with her mother. Thus, when Rita made a new friend in Isabel or had a boyfriend in Pablo, her mother was always irked, and she disapproved of all these people and the relationships. Elena’s conservative mindset had an effect on Rita as well, which the daughter showed while dealing with Isabel’s emergency. Isabel had gotten pregnant and wanted to get the baby aborted, for she did not want to become a mother. But both Rita and Elena stopped her from doing so, and instead, they gave her antidepressants and took her back to her parents’ house.
Isabel had told them multiple times how her parents would not treat her well, but to Elena, this seemed like a chance to get rid of her daughter’s best friend. At present, when Elena visits Isabel’s house, she finds out that the latter is a successful lawyer with a stunted relationship with her daughter, whom Isabel’s parents had raised for the most part. It was because of this incident that Isabel did not keep in touch with Rita, for she did not get the support and understanding that she needed at the time.
After growing up, Rita had been a very diligent and responsible daughter, especially after Elena developed Parkinson’s, and it was she who would take her mother for appointments and checkups. Rita did everything she could to ease her mother’s pains, and Elena realized it as well. She would enjoy seeing her daughter fight for her rights and claims, feeling satisfied that Rita stood firm beside her. But the heavy toll that all of this was taking on the daughter’s mental health went unnoticed by Elena.
How did Rita actually die?
Elena Knows‘ ending ascertained that Rita had indeed committed suicide and that there was no criminal wrongdoing involved in the case. Rita, who was already a sensitive individual, had been weighed down by the constant thought of tending to her mother. The woman seems to have already had some mental troubles, and all this heightened when she realized how responsible she was for her mother’s well-being. Rita had been thinking of getting Elena into old-age care as well, but this very thought also must have eaten into her conscience since doing this would hurt Elena. Rita’s personal life was in a mess as well since her marriage with Pablo had fallen apart, and the man she supposedly wanted, Father Juan, could never be hers. Her professional life was not any better either.
Elena had been harping on the fact that Rita had gone to church on that particular evening despite it raining heavily and her being afraid of thunder ever since childhood. To the old lady, this was suspicious, as her daughter would never step out in such weather conditions. However, in reality, this was an indication of how distressed and disturbed Rita was at the time, for she stepped out amidst thunder and lightning, to reach the place where she found most peace–the church. By the end of the film, Elena has to accept reality and live on with the memories of her daughter while herself looking forward to the comparatively short remainder of her life.