Elena (2012) - full transcript

Elena, a young Brazilian woman, travels to New York with the same dream as her mother, to become a movie actress. She leaves behind her childhood spent in hiding during the years of the military dictatorship. She also leaves Petra, her seven year old sister. Two decades later, Petra also becomes an actress and goes to New York in search of Elena. She only has a few clues about her: home movies, newspaper clippings, a diary and letters. At any moment Petra hopes to find Elena walking in the streets in a silk blouse. Gradually, the features of the two sisters are confused; we no longer know one from the other. When Petra finally finds Elena in an unexpected place, she has to learn to let her go.

[PETRA] Elena.

I had a dream about you last

You were soft.

Walking the streets of New York

in a silk blouse.

I try to get close...

touch you...

to feel your smell.

But when I look, you're on top
of a wall,

entangled in a mesh of electric wires.

I look again

and it's me who's on top of the wall.

I touch the wires,

trying to get a shock.

And I fall off the wall

from very high

and die.

[PETRA] Our mother always told me

that I could live anywhere in the world.

Except New York.

That I could choose any profession

except acting.

On September 4th 2003,

I started studying Theater

at Columbia University.

They wanted me to forget you, Elena.

But I returned to New York,

hoping to find you in the streets.

I bring with me everything you
left in Brazil.

Your videos, pictures, diaries...

letters on tape

because you were always embarrassed

of your handwriting

and preferred recording your impressions

of the days here to send us.

Today I walked through the city

listening to your voice

and I identify so much with
your words

that I start losing myself in you.

Dad, Olinda, Ana Petra...


March 4th, 1990,

Hi, again, I'm in NY.

It doesn't even seem
I've been here over a month.

I feel like an Indian coming to the city.

Everything's so ahead,
it takes time to get used to.

It's good but takes time.

Here you gotta think small, aim small,

or the city swallows you up.

March 20th,

I started taking some
divine singing classes.

To sing open fascinates me,

I'm even learning Italian,
German, to sing better.

Dancing's cool too.

For once, I'm really dancing,

not just modern jazz,
but butch, flamenco...


I was a bit against acting classes,
they like everything you do.

Then I met this teacher, Modica,
he's a real director,

demanding a lot of us.

He even recommended me
for my first casting test!

[WOMAN] How old are you? - 20.

[WOMAN] 20? And how tall are you?

Five nine and a half.

[WOMAN] You were born in Brazil?

I was born in Brazil, and I've been here

almost a year and a half now.

[WOMAN] What brought you to come

to the United States?

I was doing theatre there

since I was 14 years old and then...

the possibilities in Brazil are like,

either you continue doing theatre

which, I mean, there are very
few productions,

or you do soaps.

I was invited to do one...

I mean after a while I was in

but I don't really like it.

[WOMAN] You wanted to do other


And in Brazil, it's like,
almost none!

Especially now that the system
changed there.

It's like, 1 movie a year at

[WOMAN] Do your parents get you

in this business at all?

No. My mom is a journalist and

she writes for the newspaper there

and my father's a politician.

He lives in Brazil as well.

[PETRA] Actually,

our father always said that we

this dream of making films from
our mother.

And in the middle of your

I found this film that she
never showed me.

It's a silent film where she
plays the lead.

From the time she still dreamed

of being a Hollywood star

and kissing Frank Sinatra.

This made her feel like a woman.

And helped her escape from a world

where she felt out of place...


The daughter of a traditional
family from Minas Gerais,

she could see no place for

except in marriage.

A society lady.

One day,

sitting in front of the mirror
in her dresser room,

she makes a drawing.

The drawing of her sadness

and decides she has until her
16th birthday

to find meaning to her life.

And she finds our father.

A Brazilian who just arrived

from the country she dreams of
in films and songs,

but who comes back from New York

not as a Sinatra, but as a Che Guevara

carrying in his pockets books by Marx,

and the desire to start a revolution.

And overnight, our mother
leaves the Catholic school,

sells her TV, her hair,

and jumps into the street

Together they joined the
Communist Party

ready to be sent off the to guerrilla warfare in Araguaia.

But when the leaders see her 6-month belly,

they don't let them go.

Almost all the young people that go

end up executed by the military.

It was you in our mother's belly

who saved our parents lives.

And in the middle of this turmoil

you were born

and raised in hiding,

never allowed to tell anyone
where you lived.

I wonder how this time

stayed in your memory.

In your body.

The first images I find of you

you just turned 13

and got this camera as a present.


“She's looking!'

“...knows who's Elena, Petra..."

It was when I was born,

in the 80s, the time of the

Our family stopped being clandestine

and seemed to enter an American
commercial from the 50s.

“What an actress,
lots of expression...'

And you start to dance.


My mother said that since you
were 4

you knew you wanted to be an actress.

And it seems you always found a way

of putting me in the picture.

“Isn't there a way to film without
your knowing, Elena?'

Why? You want to film me...

"Without you noticing.“


“Cause when you notice, you change.”

I change?

"When filming you change.

When not, you're different.”

How am I?

“More natural.'


Please, Pedro, bring the Dermil.

"We're out of baby cream.“


This beautiful girl...

is my sister!

[PETRA] You showed me

all the Shirley Temple movies

and trained me to become an

First, you teach me how to sing.

“Move your leg a bit Olinda."


“Pull the curtain.”

“Sing, Petra!'

“Wait, I'm taking a bath.“

“You can sing in the bath.“

I can't sing, dance and take a bath.

“Yes you can!“

I'm soaping up. I can't sing!

“You said you'd sing.'

I won't sing.

“Then I'm leaving.“

[PETRA] You spend the
afternoons directing me

acting, creating scenes.

“Action! Clapper!'


Who's there?

“Mrs. Valquiria."

[PETRA] I remember watching
this scene

where you killed my Nanny

and I had so many nightmares of this.

“I always film improvising.
Do this, do that...

Never know where people are going,

always moving.'

“Put on some music.'

“I'm dancing with the moon.'

[PETRA] When you turned 15 our
parents separated

and you stopped filming.

And little by little,

I feel you becoming distant.

I look for you.

You stopped playing theatre
with me

to become a real actress.

And when you're 17

you join the Flying Bull
Theater Group.

Come back.

Choose me, take me.

“I thought you weren't coming,
had run away with a young girl.

I'm sick with love.

Touch me,

I tum to water.'

Love was this,

the bell

and its song.

[PETRA] The other actors tell me

you practiced non-stop.


That even when everything
seemed perfect

for you it was never good

Something was always missing.

But you're not satisfied.

You want more.

You say you want to be a film

[children singing]

And on my birthday you took me
by the hand

led me up these stairs

came into this room

closed the door

and said:

“You're going to be 7...

it's the worst age.

I'm going to live far away...

we won't see each other for a while.

But I'm giving you this shell.

Whenever you miss me,
put it over your ear.

I'll also have a shell

and this way we can talk.“

[PETRA] You put the shell over
my ear

and I hear the ocean.

You were right.

7 was my worst age.

“You look alike.“

“You really look alike!'

“Very mixed, you and her...

your smile, the way
you pucker your mouth.'

“The forehead, very alike.'

“Your small hands,
so delicate...

She had big hands...
powerful... I loved holding her hand.'

“You and your sister
didn't lookalike then.

Later many of her traces
appeared in you.'

“Your eyes... are the same!'

“Impressive, amazing.'

“Deep set eyes of a sparrow.'

“You're so very like Elena.

Incredible. You've her temperament...

You look like her...

At times I call you Elena!”

April 20th,

My life's better than ever.

Springs here and it seems
the whole city's in heat

While I don't get in a university

I learn all I can
in open courses.

I spend the days running
from class to class,

but it's great.

I do breathing exercises,
singing and no one minds...


Last week I met Coppola.

He even invited me to see
shootings of Godfather III.

Who knows I might get a small part

I've goosebumps thinking of it.

[PETRA] You take your photos

to several film companies

and get to do some auditions.

You leave this interview excited

but the days pass

and there's no news.

No one calls you back.

You call them many times

and they tell you to wait.

You can't stand this time.

This waiting.

June 3rd,

I see myself in the train window,

how much weight I gained in 3 days,

what decadence...

When I eat I don't feel like stopping.

I want more,

keep thinking what's next,

but it starts to finish

and I get sad.

No more.

But I'll eat more.

I want to go to the end,
even knowing there's no end.

But in 4 days I'll recover, totally.

In 7 days I lose 10 lbs
and do great photos with Marcelo,

as model and actress.

There, it's easy.

Now I feel fat and empty.

The train takes ages,
to make things worse.

I'd like my Dad, Mom and sister
with me now.

Can my roots pierce asphalt,

pipes and buildings,

to survive and bear fruit?


if my roots were strong,


But I feel my seed
hasn't even sprouted yet.


probably in a city,

if it sprouted,

small and sickly it would grow.

[PETRA] I'm still 7

and you come back

thinking that here in Brazil

your roots will find more space
to grow.

I want to be really thin.

The more I say it
the more I eat.

[PETRA] But a letter arrives

saying you were accepted to a

in New York.

And our mom decides that this time

we'll go the 3 of us.


So we won't be so alone.

You get on the plane

showing me how everything works

how it flies.

But in an instant, you start crying.

It's your ears that hurt.

I feel strange seeing my big
sister crying.

You argue with my mother,

There is anger in your crying.

Such deep, forceful crying.

“Do you have the address...
the number of the building?

Are you sure it's 76th?'

“I do, but it's not with me now.”

“I think it's closer this way, I'm not sure.“

Want to go this way to see?

I don't think it's this block,

I think it's that one.


I don't think it's this one.

There was something here...

some artist thing.


“Is if?'

Must be.

The owner lived there and downstairs...

We rented the two above...
On top were other tenants.

“Want to ring the bell?”

It asks to leave message
and phone number.

“Do you remember if it was here?“



Almost certainly.

I thought there was a small building
on the other comer.

From there I'll know for sure.

How beautiful this tree!
Look here, from the bottom.

So wonderful.

[PETRA] I don't like the first
months in New York.

Olinda doesn't take care of me

and I hate it.

I hate learning English.

The school

The teacher with her tiger skirt.

And the cold.

When I get home

I do 2 small rituals:

I scratch my wrists with a
serrated knife

till they're really red

and I put a band-aid on my

You see me,

and pull me into the bathroom.

Serious, you say:

Petra, be a good actress.

If you want to draw attention,
do it right.

Nobody's going to believe

in this band-aid in the middle
of your forehead.

Hide it a bit under your bangs

and it will be much more

At that time I didn't believe
in God

or in Santa Claus.

But I believed in mermaids.

They seemed as possible to me

as the seahorses I saw in the

You take me to watch "The
Little Mermaid"

in the cinema near our house

and on this day,

you start playing theatre with
me again

and we come back singing

and feeling like her,


Dreaming of changing skins.

Then, you read me the original story

where the Little Mermaid suffers

to become a woman,

loses her voice and dies.

What do you mean, she dies?

I feel betrayed.

I ask to sleep with you.

What's left of this memory

is this dance we created together.

See me?

[PETRA] The Little Mermaid

accepts the pain of a knife

cutting into her body

bleeding her body

to get legs

and be able to dance.

September 10th,

My vocal chords are hurt,

always have been.

It's not just ice, the cold wind,

tension, anxiety,

but mostly an awareness
of the fear,

the lack of love for myself,

for my voice.

Maybe I need a special therapy

to de-traumatize
and take this mesh out

of my chest and throat,

that before didn't let me breathe

and now doesn't let me speak,

nor sing.

She told me she felt

a huge emptiness here.

She felt lonely, a lack of love.

Felt a terrible loneliness.

She stayed in one room,

Petra in another.

[PETRA] One afternoon

I bring a friend home.

My first new friend after months.

I start showing her our house.

The living room, the bedroom,

until we come to yours.

I knock on the door

and come in with the girl.

You're all covered up

only your face is showing.

Your eyes are red.

Maybe you said something from
your bed,

I don't remember.

All I remember is that when we
left the room,

my friend with an anxious look

asked me what was wrong with you.

She's like that, I answered.

She's like that.

I got a bit impatient and told her

to make an effort,

it wasn't good for you
to see her so down.

She got up angry and left
saying she'd kill herself.

I tried grabbing her,
I was hall dressed.

She got in the elevator...
I got desperate.

This body is sick.

Life made it totally sick.


That out of control self returned

and I act as though an actress,

I see all as on a film screen:

"My rhythm, my breathing,

the eyes becoming different.

The worlds empty,


it's no use waiting for anyone.

You're alone,

completely alone.

What are you going to do?

I'll degrade myself

and go down...

this drain.

Now I'm getting in it.


[PETRA] Our mother spends hours

looking for you in the streets,


But after some time, you come back.

She takes you to a psychiatrist

and you start being treated
with lithium.

She was sitting on the bed,
I sat down...

She said,

“Art for me is everything,
without art I'd rather die.

If I can't be an artist,

better to die.”

I said, “Elena... it's not like that.

Why did you go back to theatre class?

We made a deal you wouldn't.

You wouldn't go...'

She didn't do theatre for a month.

She said, “Then nothing
has any meaning for me.”

I said, “We made a deal.

Why go if it makes
you feel so bad...


I said,

“I waited for you, I'm so tired,

and have to leave early at 5.”

“Will you look after Petra?"
She nodded.

She lay down on her bed.

I said, “I'll come back early,
as soon as it ends.

You'll wait for me?
Take care of Petra?'

I went to my room
and she started sobbing.

I didn't go back there.

She cried for about 10 minutes,

then stopped.

At 5 in the morning
I went to her again,

“Here's the alarm clock
so you take Petra to school.”

She nodded and went on sleeping.

[PETRA] You wake me up in the

You're sad, I don't like it.

Your sadness.

I remember it's the day of show
and tell

and it's my turn to take

to show and tell to my class.

You go to your room,

you come back with a blue
stuffed dog.

You explain that it has special

and that whenever I really
wanted something

I just had to close my eyes,

make a wish,

shake the little dog,

and my wish will come true.

When it's time for show and tell

the children form a circle

and my turn comes to explain
what the dog's about.

It shakes, and has sad eyes.

And the children ask:

but doesn't it play music?

Doesn't it do anything else?


It only shakes and has sad eyes.

You stay home.

All day long at home


Doing what?

Talking to whom?

At the end of the day, a friend
calls you.

You were supposed to meet.

I've been imagining this person

for 20 years.

What did you say to him?

What did he do?

[MAN] This one weekend

that we had planned on her

coming to see the show I was doing,

I called her late in the day.

She didn't sound good.

So I said 'Elena, I'll come and
get you,

we'll go out for a drink,

we'll go out for a coffee

or whatever it is you like to do

I'll come get you.'

She was hysterical over the phone.

She was like 'I don't want you
to see me like this'

and 'I'm not doing so well'

and I said 'No, Elena, it's OK

it's not a problem, I'll come
and get you!

Please let me come and get you,

I'll jump in a cab and I'll
come and I'll get you!'

and she said 'No no, Michael

I don't want to see you, I feel

I feel terrible and I don't...'

I said 'I'm coming to get you.'

So I jumped in a cab with my

and rang the bell, rang the
bell, rang the bell...

She wasn't answering.

And then I ran to the corner

to a pay phone and I called her,

and I kept calling and calling
and calling her

but the line was busy...

I was so frustrated, so angry.

I'd been out there for, like,
an hour

and I didn't know what to do

when your mother showed up.

[PETRA] You take a whole bottle
of aspirin

sit at a desk and write this letter.

“This mystery,

I feel dark, in darkness,

which will never end.

I don't dare wish to work in theater,

cinema, dance, singing.

'Cause I lived them
and moments later

I no longer had their light,

and didn't know what for
nor why I did them,

and the same sadness took over me.“

This day everyone is out,

the guy rang all apartments

to get someone to open to save Elena,

but nobody came, no one was here.

I asked them to help take her quick,
they didn't want to carry her...

wanted to wait for the ambulance.

“Feel so sick. If only I could vomit.

Not even that.

I feel weak,

a coward and ashamed
before life and everyone.

I want to die.


So many it's ridiculous to mention.

I give up

Because my heart's so sad

I feel I have the right
to no longer wander

with this body that occupies space

and keeps on shattering
what I have that's so... fragile.'

There was some blood on the walls,

a syringe and a knife.

There was a table in the comer

with a word-processor
where she'd been writing.

When we came in

she was lying on the bed.

From that side to this.

In the middle of the bed, like this.

I want to disappear.

[PETRA whispers] This time

I was not supposed to fight...

I remember...

I remember.

They came
with this interrogation,

asking questions for hours...

Was she drugged?

I said no, they kept asking
instead of attending her...

They took so long.

She started to cough,
sat up faint in bed,


It's when she vomited.
I screamed and they came

and took her to dean out her lungs.

I'm dancing with the moon.

[PETRA] When I got back home

I saw my mother with such a sad,

desperate look I'd never seen

Did Elena die? I asked.

And she told me it was you.

I found everything so cruel.

When I told you Elena died,

the first thing you said was
“It hurts my feelings.”

You started to cry

and asked for your cuddly elephant. Someone got
it and you kept him on your lap like this...

They got H, you kept it
on your lap...

[PETRA] In the days that followed

my cousin told me that if I wanted

I could keep on talking to you.

That you'd be invisible, but
you'd hear me.

I do this.

I talk to you.

Guilt is...

the head catching fire.

The pain of guilt.

Anguish, is here...

And then...

guilt... tchaa...

The pain is so unbearable,

the physical suffering,

It seems the only
way out is death.


But how could I leave you alone?

This story ran in my head:

“If I'd arrived home, found Elena dead...

I'd rent a car, put you and her in it,

drive off a cliff and all would end.'

So I understood... such stories,

“Killed family and committed suicide.'

But this was no solution,

I couldn't do this to you,

my little seven-year-old.

It wasn't a way out.

It was just...

My despair,

a torment in the head.

[PETRA] After you die,

our mother becomes longing.

Always with a sad, distant look.

I ask:

'what is it mom? Are you sad?'

She watches me in silence,

tries to smile and says

'I'm thinking of Elena.'

I come close, give her a hug,

touch her, just to try to make
her smile.

And we repeat this ritual,

this talk everyday,

many times a day,

until I don't even have to ask.

I look at her and know she's
thinking of you.

Almost always thinking of you.

Our father, when I ask him
about you,

he can't speak.

He only looks away in silence.

Psychological report:

Petra is a 7 years, 6 month old

who was brought for
psychological evaluation

by her mother.

The mother indicated that Petra
started saying

that she wanted to die

and has been experiencing

There is also evidence of

and feelings of guilt.

Petra avoided talking about her

Petra is using defences,

which suggest obsessive
compulsive tendencies

in order to cope with difficult

She is likely to continue using
these defences

for a while,

which permit her to deny

of her true depression.

I turn 10

and my mother and I decide to
spend our vacation

at the country home of some friends.

They have a golf cart

and I spend my days driving up
and down.

One afternoon,

going around in circles with
the cart,

I realize you'd died forever.

Won't she ever come back again?


She's dead.

She'll never come again.

I go back to the house

and realize my mother can die

and think that if I thought this

it means she'll really die at
any moment

that it's a sign

and that I have to do
everything that I can

to avoid it.

I start making promises

that I won't ever eat salt

that I'll climb all the stairs

to the 19th floor of our
apartment on my knees,

and that I'll never look at a

so that she won't die.

I always went into the bathroom

with my eyes closed.

Then, like everything,

the fear disappeared

and you slowly disappeared with it.

Until it's time for university
admission exams.

I study a lot,

but don't know where to go

what path to take.

At the very last moment,

I choose theatre.

But when night comes, I can't sleep.

Not even a minute.



5 days go by

and I don't sleep.

I start to feel that my brain's

going to explode.

Break down.

That a piece will come out of place.

Changing clothes,

I hear myself talking alone.

It's almost like I couldn't feel...

and nothing comes back.
An emptiness.

I criticize myself a lot...
all the time

especially sex, without
love it's a poison.

It's like there's...

a being in me that hates me.

I'd dive under in this bath
to erase it all,

sleep forever.

I look at the mirror

and can't see anything behind
my eyes.

I started wanting to die
when I was 13,

up to 16.

Three to four years...

The first crisis I remember
was in my room,

I drew in front of the minor my face,

in dark blue, purple, black.

With many creases,
as if I were old...

old and tragic.


on the eve of Elena's death,

she looked in her closet for a poster.

When she found it, I saw...

it was of the play Elektra,
so much like my drawing.

I remembered it well.

She hung it on her wall

the night she did the staging...

of death.

[PETRA] She convinces me

that life's not worth it.

I have to die with her.

I'm afraid.

Afraid of what time is going to
do to me.

“If she convinces me life's not worth it,
Afraid of what time is going to
do to me.

“If she convinces me life's not worth it,

I have to die with her.”

What's my role...

“Going over that film...
What's my role...

All I could've done different.”
What's my role...

All I could've done different.”

What's my role in this film?

I turn 17...


And feel as the hours go by

I get closer to you.

Until on my 21st birthday

my mother looks at me and says:

'Now you're older than Elena.'

The fear that I'd follow in
your steps

began to dissipate.

But I kept on finding that you,

Elena, were in me.

A part of me.

I stop feeling this

when I started looking for you.

You began taking shape.

A body.

Being re-born a bit, from me.

But to die again...

And I,

much more conscious to feel
your death

this time.

Immense pleasure,

that comes with so much pain.

I drown in you.

In Orphellius.

Where is...

Where is...

I perform.

I perform our death

to find air.

To be able to live.

And little by little,

the pain turns to water.

Becomes memory.

Memories go with time.

They fade.

But some finale songs,

just bits of relief

in the small openings of poetry.

You are my inconsolable memory

made of shadow and stone

and it is from this that all is born

and dances.