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IDFA Review: Elena

Director Petra Costa’s mother told her she could live anywhere but New York, and chose any profession except being an actor but, like all daughters do at times, Petra decided to do exactly the opposite. The result is this very emotional and personal documentary.

It’s actually not true that Petra left in a way an unruly teenager would. She left with a good reason. Her dream was not that of Broadway but of finding her long-lost sister who, twenty years before, made that very same journey.

Petra’s sister Elena left Brazil bound for New York to pursue her dream of becoming a movie star. Though she already established a career in theatre at home, she felt the need to leave behind a childhood spent in hiding during the years of the military dictatorship and start afresh.

Now an adult, Petra, who was seven years old when her Elena left, sets out to find her. The only leads she has though are an eclectic collection of personal belongings, old photos and childhood home videos. But Petra takes with her hope, the unrealistic hope to find Elena walking in the streets in a silk blouse; a successful actress.

The highly personal nature of the film is exemplified by the way in which Costa herself is the narrator and slowly but surely her tales, combined with the similar goals that the sisters pursue, ensure that the features of the two sisters are confused and the audience left unsettled.

The few interviews that are carried out are intimate and revealing. Extreme close ups of the interviewees’ faces act to emphasise the personal nature of what they are saying, and also to add even more intimacy and intensity to the documentary.

This personal feel is heightened every time old photos or home videos are shown of Petra and Elena as children, performing or playing in the house they grew up in. Especially the videos, combined with re-enacted shots of past and present, create an atmospheric, dream-like quality to the film. The music too plays a key role in adding to this, effectively creating an extra layer of tension.

This debut feature hybrid documentary by the director is both extremely personal and absorbing, with an openness and transparency to feelings and events that is heartfelt and genuine. With a reflective stance of how past events and feelings turn into memories, this engaging documentary brings the audience into the heart of Petra’s thoughts and feelings during her journey to discover both her sister as well as herself.

For I Know My Weakness will be screening at IDFA at the following locations and times:

Thu 22-11            17:15     Tuschinski 5
Fri 23-11              19:15     Tuschinski 5

For more information and to book tickets visit the IDFA website.


Written by

Nicola graduated from Brunel University with a BSc in Sociology and Media and is now currently studying for a MSc at LSE in Society and Culture, while working in the UK film industry. The Up Series (beginning with 7up) sparked her interest in documentaries, particularly those with a social and cultural themes. She is enthusiastic about documentaries because of their capacity to inform and incite change, as seen from The Thin Blue Line and, more recently, Josh Fox’s Gasland.

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