Keswick Film Club - Reviews - Alexandra

Reviews - Alexandra


Reviewed By John Stakes

In a late programme change last Sunday the Club screened Alexandra, a 2007 Russian film about the long running conflict in Chechnya, directed by one of Russia’s best known directors Alexander Sokurov.

Sokurov’s film was an elegy on the pointlessness of war everywhere which he managed to convey without showing any of the actual conflict apart from a distance shot of fires raging on hillsides. Rather more subtle ways were deployed to illustrate the effect of a war now bordering on the seemingly endless; bomb ravaged dwellings still occupied by villagers who never had the option of becoming refugees; the resentment etched on the faces of Chechnyan youth; the tired, bored aimless demeanour of the Russian occupying forces who had long since lost any appetite for engagement with the enemy; and the pervading atmosphere of the exhausting futility of it all.

Into this sun-dried but hardly sun-kissed oppressive setting appears our heroine Alexandra ( played by veteran opera singer Galina Vishrevskaya ), a lonely widow in her eighties who has resolved to call upon her 27 year old grandson Denis, an army captain who last saw his grandmother ten years ago. Alexandra strikes an unlikely figure as she boards the train to Chechnya. Indeed some suspension of disbelief is required at her being permitted even to visit her grandson let alone to be allowed to wander around camp at will upon her arrival

Still, Sokurov’s camera loved every minute of her as she imposed her somewhat truculent and determined self on her bemused army hosts, and clambered in and out of tanks, sleeping quarters and mess tents, and even managed to persuade the perimeter guards to let her out unaccompanied in what was clearly No Country For Old Ladies to disappear into the nearby village. There she meets Malika, an impoverished pensioner who bore a remarkable resemblance to her and who immediately adopts her as her sister and, despite her poverty, refuses to allow Alexandra to pay for various items she has bought in the market.

Sokurov’s objective in all this is to flag up man’s innate hostility to man, and women’s natural affinity to each other. At one point Alexandra rounds on Denis and tells him “I’m fed up with all this military pride – you can kill – when will you build?” Alexandra may well represent Mother Earth but the Russian Fatherland rules and Alexandra returns home wiser but sadder and feeling helpless.

The camera eloquently captured Alexandra’s feelings as it focused and concentrated on her face, and Sukurov’s cinematographer Alexsandr Burov brilliantly caught the searing heat of this dust filled back of beyond in his bleached and muted coloured visuals to the extent that dialogue was almost irrelevant. Perhaps this was as well because the almost wholly improvised screenplay was disappointingly repetitive and un-illuminating at times with negligible narrative drive and the delivery of which some of the actors seemed uncomfortable with to the point that at times Sukurov seemed content with voice-overs. Or was it merely a problem with translation?

Notwithstanding shortcomings in dialogue, the film’s look and feel was entirely authentic given Sokurov’s decision as the son of a Red Army Veteran to film on location in Grozny which was influenced no doubt by his experiences as a youth serving in various Soviet military camps. This enabled him to deliver a quietly challenging message designed perhaps to make the Russian hierarchy reflect at least upon its policy with regard to civil unrest.

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Keswick Film Club won the Best New Film Society at the British Federation Of Film Societies awards in 2000.

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