Alexandra

"Excellent"

Alexandra Review


Nothing much happens in the Russian art-drama Alexandra. A grandmother (legendary opera diva Galina Vishnevskaya) gets on a train to Chechnya to visit her grandson Denis (Vasily Shevtsov), a soldier living on a makeshift base. Once she arrives, she sees her grandson for a bit, talks to some of the other soldiers, goes to a local market, and makes friends with some elderly marketplace traders. Again, it doesn't look like much, but those familiar with the work of Russian auteur Aleksandr Sokurov know that the man doesn't need much when creating his specialized brand of cinematic enigmas.

Like the bright balloon of Hou Hsiao-hsien's upcoming Flight of the Red Balloon, Alexandra serves as an allegory for several things, but, as political as it might be, Sokurov's film comes off as a metaphor. Vishnevskaya, in a bold, hypnotic performance, is at once Mother Russia, the grandmother of every man on the base, the ghost of humanity, the regiment's inner compass and, yes, even herself. The soldiers are at times equally mesmerized and frustrated by her very existence, mostly as she complains about the overwhelming heat. Though the war between Chechnya and Russia in the early 1990s is felt, Sokurov's film feels oddly undated, and when the grandmother fires a gun, remarking on how easy it is, it sounds like the universal history of conflict psychology delivered in a thick, Leningrad accent.

Aided by cinematographer Alexander Burov, who last worked with Sokurov on Father and Son, the soldiers' base is given a tone of sepia that suggests that the whole of Chechnya has been wind-swept by dust and dirt. Near nighttime, the shade shifts into an eerie, cool green. Most impressive, the filmmaker's work with special effects, most evident on the visually exquisite train ride to the Chechnyan base, is both thoughtfully restrained and breathtaking; it's as lyrically poetic as the effects in Sokurov's last film, the criminally-undistributed The Sun, were visceral. But where as The Sun was a shock to the system, a bold change of flavor with moments of visual bombast, Alexandra returns Sokurov to the wind and earth of one of his best works, Mother and Son. The effect is astoundingly elemental: the movement and emotions of the soldiers and Alexandra seem to hinge on the very ground they walk on.

When the grand babushka makes her way to the marketplace, she begins to chat with a few other elderly matriarchs. They sit and have tea in the dilapidated complex where they live, discussing their dead husbands and their children. Though elegant and moving in its own way, the most palpable feeling the scene emits is grief. The knowledge of the past may be perfunctory to these women's children and grandchildren, but it weighs on their shuffling bodies without respite. Sokurov's aesthetic may prove impenetrable to day-to-day audiences but the filmmaker, a student of Tarkovsky and son of a Red Army soldier, hits on something painful and intrinsically human: the feeling of inevitable disillusionment.

Aka Aleksandra.



Alexandra

Facts and Figures

Run time: 95 mins

In Theaters: Wednesday 26th September 2007

Distributed by: The Cinema Guild

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 4 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 89%
Fresh: 51 Rotten: 6

IMDB: 6.9 / 10

Cast & Crew

Producer: Laurent Danielou,

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