First published by Grolsch FilmWorks
Ana (Ona Casamiquela) is part of a new generation of Spaniards – a Fine Arts student struggling to make ends meets as the recession hits hard, and resentful of the parents who, post-Franco, had it easier. Her sometime boyfriend Alex (Jesús Caba) is similarly cash-strapped, sharing a small house with four other guys and making money on the side from drug dealing. In order to raise the 1000 Euros she needs for a post-graduation trip, Ana applies for babysitting work in the elegantly furnished apartment of Diamantina (Luisa Gavasa) – a piano-playing prodigy from the early 1960s who has since become an eccentric collector of dolls and plants. Minding Diamantina’s ‘special’ daughter Elisa (Ana Turpin) may well be the last job that Ana ever takes, as these two young women prove even further apart than impoverished Ana and her affluent peers.
Intergenerational strife lies at the heart of Juanra Fernández’s twisted tale For Elisa (Para Elisa), with some class conflict thrown in for good measure. We see it in the phone conversation about money that Ana has with her mother at the film’s beginning, signed off angrily with the words “Fuck off!” And we see it again in the even more dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship between Diamantina and Elisa, with Diamantina not just continuing to live in her own decades-old memories of childhood but also unnaturally infantilising Elisa and horrifically objectifying any other young women she ensnares who “still smell like new.” There is even, towards the end, an ominous vignette involving a similarly overprotective father and his daughter (who happens to share Ana’s name). Somewhere in all this we see Mother Spain yearning nostalgically for better days and older values that can only be relived at the expense of the young.
This being a genre film, Ana’s very contemporary predicament is converted to Misery-style thrills, as Diamantina’s oppressive apartment becomes the setting for some grotesquely girlish games with real, live toys. The mode of fairytale gothic is expertly rendered in the apartment set, which seems more time-capsule than living space – a doll’s house hermetically sealed from historical realities. Yet if Fernández gets the atmosphere creepily right, the story itself feels padded, with much of the relatively brief duration filled out by Alex’s frantic search for Ana (including not one but two visits to the police station). The lack of narrative economy suggests that For Elisa might have worked better as a short film. As for the title, referencing the piece Für Elise that Diamantina plays to calm her traumatised daughter, it just goes to prove the principle, already well established in A Clockwork Orange (1971), Class of 1984 (1982) and The Great Ecstasy of Robert Carmichael (2005), that a cultured love of Beethoven need not preclude a propensity towards a bit of the old ultraviolence.