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ALEXANDRA

Director: ALEXANDER SOKUROV


MAKING HIS MOST ACCESSIBLE FILM SINCE THE SURPRISE HIT THAT WAS RUSSIAN ARK — A FLAMBOYANT, SINGLE-SHOT TOUR DE FORCE SET IN ST PETERSBURG’S HERMITAGE MUSEUM — DIRECTOR ALEXANDER SOKUROV PROVIDES A LOW-KEY YET INTRIGUING PORTRAIT OF A RUSSIAN WAR ZONE IN ALEXANDRA.
The film’s premise is deceptively simple. Alexandra (played with great dignity by the famous opera diva Galina Vishnevskaya) is an ageing widow who takes a trip to a Russian military outpost in Chechnya to visit her grandson Denis (Vasily Shevtsov), a young army captain. Chechnya is never mentioned, but we know the film was shot there and the time must be during the second Chechen war. Similarly, although the camp is not on the front line, we see the scars of war in the damaged buildings of the local village. What distinguishes this war film in which not a single shot is fired is that it approaches military conflict indirectly, through the eyes of a grandmother who seems out of place as she scrambles into armoured vehicles, tries to handle a Kalashnikov, and traipses about the hot, dusty base wheeling her suitcase.
A whole new perspective opens up when Alexandra wanders off to do some shopping in a local village, where she’s befriended by a Chechen woman, Malika (Raisa Gichaeva). ‘Men can be enemies, but we’re friends straightaway,’ says Malika. The contrast between male and female thinking is obvious, but Sokurov complicates matters considerably in an extraordinary subsequent encounter between Alexandra and Denis, in which grandma and grandson are reconciled in a scene of near-erotic tenderness. It’s a typical Sokurov moment of transcendence in a film that J. Hoberman has accurately described as ‘a mysterious mixture of lightness and gravity.’ — Peter Walsh.

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