Review: Aleksandra

Title Aleksandra II.2
Director Alexsandr Sokurov
Starring Galina Vishnevskaya, Vasily Shevstov, Raisa Gichaeva
Running Time 95 minutes

In a news cycle dominated by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and only recently shaken by the events in Georgia over the summer, the conflict in Chechnya seems like the forgotten war of our time. rt imitates life, so modern war movies mostly focus on the Middle East, and this is where Aleksandra stands out from the crowd, based as it is during the Second Chechen War, which took place in 1999.

The film tells the story of an elderly Russian woman, played by Galina Vishnevskaya, who travels to the wasteland of Chechnya to visit her grandson, an officer in the Russian Army. You might think it’s a simple and perhaps unappealing premise, but through Vishnevskaya’s portrayal of Aleksandra and the lingering, atmospheric camerawork of writer-director Aleksandr Sokurov, Aleksandra delivers an elegant and devastating anti-war message.

Sokurov is best known for Russian Ark, a unique film that used an unedited, continuous 90-minute shot to tell the story of Russia’s history and culture. He employs restraint and care here in dealing with the Chechen War, showing both sides in what feels like an honest depiction of the humdrum reality of the conflict zone.

The title character is not a peacenik raging against the military, but, rather, a world-weary grandmother who treats the boys in the army with an affectionate disdain. Often just the image of the heavily armed troops helping this old lady around the camp speaks volumes about the absurdities of modern warfare, and this is further developed when she visits the local market and befriends Malika, a Chechen woman who is a model of nobility and kindness.

The problem with Aleksandra as a film, however, is that, beyond this core message, there is very little else to its characters or the story itself. She
visits the camp, goes to the market, comes back, talks to her grandson, and that’s it. We see no glimpse of her home life or their relationship beyond this visit.

Furthermore, after about the sixth or seventh time you’ve been shown the old lady taking the military men down a few pegs, you’ve got the point. What could have been a blistering half-hour short loses its edge by simply
repeating what you’ve seen before, and, after a while, despite the fine performances and atmospheric setting, it gets a bit boring.

Yes, war is pointless and bad, but when the image on the poster sums up all you really have to say on the subject, then surely life is too short to make a film about it.
Michael Armstrong