In Ellektra, what starts out as a dark, morbid drama ends as an oddly affecting redemptive tale of dreams and the fragile nature of life.
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Ellektra begins simply enough. The opening credits are a collage of newspaper clippings and cinematic snippets of the primary characters doing what they love to do.
But all is not well on the seedy streets of the outer fringes of Brussels, Belgium.
A series of tragic events starts off with a car accident which kills the distracted driver’s infant daughter. That serves as a back story to Sam (Gert Portael, Olivetti 82), one of Ellektra’s troubled protagonists. She’s a former journalist kicked to the curb by the drug addiction she picked up to ease the pain of her loss.
Elsewhere, a perfume maker loses his sense of smell after his nose is broken in a darkly comic domestic dispute. There’s also a stripper with dreams of becoming an actress, who has her tongue savagely cut out by a mob goon.
More innocently, a classical pianist (played by the popular French soul artist Axelle Red) loses her hands to paralysis and a young boy’s dreams of becoming a pilot come crashing down after he falls from a rooftop and becomes wheelchair-bound.
To top it off, a DJ, on the verge of getting engaged to his hot blonde girlfriend, loses his hearing in a diving accident out in the deep blue sea. No longer able to rave on, he loses his source of income and his lover.
Enough Is Enough
On the surface, that’s the stuff of one massively depressing night at the movies. As these individual tales of tragedy unfold, things get uncomfortable. Particularly disturbing is the stripper’s ill-fated confrontation with her seedy mob boss.
At the head of the evil clique is a kingpin whose daughter, Ellen (Catherine Kools, Vergeten Straat) has, smartly, flown the coop. That creepy, bespectacled heavy, Don Aime (Serge-Henri Valcke, Soul Assassin), is so nasty he actually keeps a closet full of jars containing body parts. He’s particularly fond of eyeballs.
Rustled back into the service of the kingpin, Sam is hired to find his (the kingpin’s) wayward daughter; Sam’s own daughter would’ve been Ellen’s age had she not been killed in that car accident.
As for Ellen, whose instant-messaging handle is Ellektra, she’s been keeping a notebook of newspaper clippings following the tragedies befalling the main characters. She messages each one of them, by cell phone, asking if they’ve had enough.
Given the dark storytelling up to that point, it’s anyone’s guess as to what the teenage, blue-haired girl is up to.
Ellektra is an ambitious story about how quickly people can fall apart and disappear into despair if nobody’s looking out for them.
The movie gets off to a slow start, setting up all the thematic elements and individual stories. At first, it all seems impossibly disjointed. The disparate, sometimes morbid, stories don’t gel initially, but, as the DJ says on a couple of occasions, “Everything fits together.”
As the movie progresses, it finds its own voice and identity, culminating in a conclusion that is – at least mostly – surprisingly wholesome. The movie’s final line, “You can’t keep living with ghosts in your head,” serves as a fitting closing comment.
With Ellektra, director Rudolf Mestdagh has crafted his first full-length feature. Prior to the film, Mestdagh’s most high-profile work has been a couple of episodes of the British TV series Lock, Stock… (a spin-off of Guy Ritchie’s movie Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels).
In Ellektra, Mestdagh displays a vibrant visual style and cinematic sensibilities that can, in some respects, be compared to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s, particularly in the scenes depicting Sam’s drug-addled hysteria.
Now that Mestdagh has purged the ghosts of Ellektra from his head, this debut feature foretells good things to come from the Belgian director’s lens.