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ELENI

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 2, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a film that fell through the cracks upon its theatrical release, had a pan-and-scan VHS release in the late 1990s and has languished ever since in movie limbo. But now it’s on Blu-ray and DVD, thanks to the folks at Kino Lorber. Here’s my Jan. 22, 1986, Deseret News review.

Though I was prepared to be disappointed by “Eleni” I was instead very pleasantly surprised.

Despite mostly mixed and some decidedly negative reviews in the national press over the past six months or so, “Eleni” vindicates itself as a very moving portrait of the strong bond between mother and son. In fact it was one of the strongest, most heart-rending portrayals of mother love I can remember seeing on film.

Based on New York Times reporter Nicholas Gage’s real-life obsessive search into his mother’s past, “Eleni” tells two stories simultaneously — the flashback examination of his mother’s tribulations in northwestern Greece during that country’s civil war, intertwined with Gage’s own tracking down of people who were there in an attempt to locate the man that sentenced his mother to death some 30 years earlier.

Movies in the past have had difficulty with a film structure that combines what are essentially two different storylines with different narrative tones and … I’m thinking of “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”

But “Eleni,” despite the 30-year gap in the time frame of its two stories, manages to maintain the same tone, and though we go back and forth, the separate stories are in many ways one.

     

                            Kate Nelligan, 'Eleni'

Peter Yates, who has given us such diverse films as “Breaking Away,” “The Dresser,” “Bullitt” and the underrated “Eyewitness,” has pulled a directing coup here, maintaining a linear theme while essentially telling two stories.

The flashback story, with Kate Nelligan as Eleni, shows the small Greek village of Lia being overrun by communists who tell the villagers they are being liberated, then turn the young daughters into soldiers and the mothers into work-slaves.

The focus is clearly on Eleni and her desperate attempts to free her children, eventually sacrificing herself to do so. But there is also attention paid to others in the village, including two particularly moving portraits, one mother who stands up to the regime and is executed for her efforts, another mother who lies during a mock trial and condemns the innocent Eleni in order to save her own children.

Linda Hunt is very good as one of Eleni’s friends, and Kate Nelligan is incredible as the title character. Nelligan’s performance is often silent, relying on inner emotion and facial expressions, and she is stunning in her ability to convey every nuance as Eleni goes to whatever length she deems necessary to rescue her children, yet still tells her son Nicholas to put it all behind him once he escapes.

     

Nicholas, of course, cannot do this, and his vengeful quest is the thrust of the film. And when he reaches the end of this journey into darkness, an ending that will shock and surprise you, it is incredibly moving.

John Malkovich, superb in supporting roles in “The Killing Fields,” “Places in the Heart” and TV’s “Death of a Salesman,” is also excellent here as the obsessed journalist who uses his investigative skills to unravel this personal mystery.

“Eleni” is yet another example of a movie that received short shrift from a studio because it didn’t know how to market the picture and because the film didn’t make a big splash in New York or Los Angeles when it played there.

Despite that, be grateful “Eleni” has finally come here and by all means go see it before it disappears.

“Eleni” is rated PG for violence.