Top critical review
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on 6 January 2012
Grandma Alexandra (Galina Vishnevskaya) looks very fed up. She's got the whole of Mother Russia on her back - so is needing to walk much Great Suffering out of her tired legs.
She's gone to see Dennis (Dennis?!) her army officer grandson, where he's making war in the Chechen Republic. Whys she there? I mean, how credible is this? Why is she allowed to be there? Why is she allowed to wander around the front line faffing her fingers at the bored border guards? This situation seems like a contrived set-up of Sukurov's to facilely juxtapose women as nurturers against the bad boys (men) of war.
It's soon turned into one of those films where questioning plot plausibility becomes irrelevant - cus there is no plot. Nothing very interesting happens. And nothing very interesting is said. She gets shown around the dusty hot base, the dirty combat vehicles. Now she's examining their shiny equipment. She's brusque, dismissive. Seen it all, done it all. "All" meaning all the suffering already. All the suffering these bored boys are too insensitive - or desensitized - to suffer, with all this impersonalised shooting off of these weapons of destruction they do.
So she's wandering about the camp mumbling and muttering to herself like some grumpy old Mother Archetype. Its "Alexandra Nikolaevna" this and "Alexandra Nikolaevna" that (thought that only happened to characters in Tolstoy novels). Keeps needing to sit down cus tired. More than likely made tired; by the moral torpor shes witnessing - as accentuated by the drained out greeny gray the film is being filtered through.
"What do you actually want? I don't understand you" says Unit Commander. I don't understand her either. And its hard not to feel disengaged by all this gruff antipathy she's wearily trudging around the camp with. They can't help it - the poor lambs; they're just being soldiers. Making war and killing people is what soldiers do. Even if they are only little lads. If you don't like being there - go away!
And she's gone. Leaves as disgruntled/ crotchety/ lonely/ dismayed (take your pick) as she came. Mind you, there's been a big granny love-in at the train departure; reinforcing how instantly, easily, connective womenfolk can be together. Because they - the grannies, (whether Russian or Chechen) represent humankinds best, possibly - only - hope against war (I doubt Sukurov meant anything as trite as that - but its as much thought as i want to give this film for now)