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3.4 out of 5 stars
3.4 out of 5 stars
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Please ignore the 'lonely granny' review; this is quite simply one of the greatest films you will see. Sokurov allows for mystery and contemplation, but like Ozu, Sokurov is, I suppose, not for everyone. If Ozu's films are 'just about some boring Japanese family', then Alexandra can similarly be reduced to some misguided plot description. I'd say it's about what it means to be a soldier, what it means to not be a soldier, what it means to be a man, what it means to be a woman, what it means to be young, what it means to be old, what it means to be a human being. No answers, just a journey.
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“It’s complicated for a soldier. Especially a Russian.” So tells Denis, a captain in the Russian army, a professional who loves army life, to his grandmother who has visited his camp in the south during the Chechen campaign. Alexandra has gone to there to see him, but whilst there also talks to other soldiers, visits the adjacent makeshift market as well as the bombed town nearby. How can such a plot maintain interest for ninety minutes in yet another superb film by director Alexander Sokurov?

Well, it does for many reasons. Leave alone the technical aspects of superb camera framing and wonderful acting (especially by Alexandra, played by the late Galina Vishnevskaya, more famed for her work in the opera house), there are the messages to be gleaned from the context: the treatment of soldiers, the treatment and tensions of the local population, and the treatment by both of Alexandra herself. But probably the most important is the juxtaposition of a strong-willed but kindly – and wise – grandmother in the midst of a camp geared towards war. All the soldiers, despite their bravado, have mothers. And then there is consideration of the political message …

It’s all shot and acted in a natural manner. There is no grandstanding, although at one point Alexandra confronts the unit commander. Lamenting the war, she tells him, “You can destroy. But when will you learn to rebuild?” But instead of being a fount of wisdom, Alexandra has much to learn too.

In a perceptive review in ‘Sight & Sound’ Tony Rayns wrote how ‘Alexandra’ could just as easily have been titled ‘Grandmother and Grandson’, forming a third part of Sokurov’s series of films that explore close family relationships (‘Mother and Son’; ‘Father and Son’), “except that these characters [Alexandra and Denis] are far less ‘archetypal’ and far more interestingly flawed.” Nevertheless, all films do have the same wistful, romantic Tchaikvoskian soundtrack by Andrei Sigle.

There are two extras on my DVD. The first is a fifteen-minute interview with Sokurov. He says he wrote the script specifically with Vishnevskaya in mind: the film would not have been made otherwise. He says the film has a go at politicians generally for putting politics above human values. Unfortunately, the interview deals more with war generally than with the film. The second is an eight-minute interview with Sigle, who produced the film as well as composed the music. Here we learn that it was shot in Chechnya under difficult security conditions and that it touches a raw nerve in Russia.
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VINE VOICEon 22 July 2014
Well, this is what Sokurov does. And he does it superbly. This is an occasion when to say that something is an 'art film' is neither pejorative nor precious. It is simply that Sokurov composes his images carefully - a juxtaposition of light and shade, colour and tonal palette, designed to paint a portrait of a particular time and place. The story element is a relatively minor component of his evocation of mood and meaning.

On the one hand, it is so naturalistic that it has an almost documentary feel to it; on the other, it has the sensitivity to visual image of a painter.

Although solely about a war, this is not in any normal sense a war film. It is a measured evocation of time and place; and that time and place happens to be in the middle of a brutal war. Sokurov relies on the mood that he evokes to tell you what he thinks about the issue, and - as with any work of art - different observers will come to their own conclusions as to what that might be.

Enjoy it on its own terms - or avoid it. Narrative storytelling, this isn't.
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on 17 November 2014
This is a terrific film but not if you want all action fairly mindless viewing. It's about the way things were in Chechnya and various relationships between those concerned on both sides. Really recommended.
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VINE VOICEon 24 April 2013
I fail to see the argument in the various poor reviews here. So, as a disclaimer, if you do not like foreign films, subtitles, and moving, thoughtful works that do not feature action, love scenes, or well-known actors, then do not bother to watch this film. Please.
This Russian film stars 73 year old Galina Vishenevskaya, a famous opera singer, as the title character. Made in 2007, during the Second Chechen War, waged by the Russian government, against separatists in the Caucasus. Aleksandra is missing her grandson, Dennis, who is an army officer, serving on a remote base in this bleak, war-torn country. She resolves to visit him, despite her age and infirmities, and the logistical difficulties of travelling to a war zone. Taking the arduous train journey, she finally arrives, hot and dusty, at Dennis's camp. He makes her as comfortable as possible, given the basic amenities, and shows her around proudly, letting her sit in his armoured vehicle, and meeting the men of his unit, mostly young, and all homesick. When he has to go on a mission, she is able to wander around freely, and visits the nearby Chechen town, to buy goods for the young men not allowed to leave the base. She views both sides of this conflict, and worries for her grandson, who she may never see again. This is an understated performance, but one of great depth. Her skill, is in showing that she could be anyone and everyone's concerned grandmother, and it is this that is the glue that holds the whole film together.
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on 14 May 2015
It's very slow, but worth it for how thought provoking it becomes.
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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)
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on 29 January 2016
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on 24 February 2015
Perfect :)
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VINE VOICEon 9 March 2009
"Alexandra" is a simple and unremarkable film about an old lady who goes to visit her grandson in a Russian army camp in Chechnya. After her reunion with her grandson, she wanders around the camp chatting to soldiers and does a spot of shopping in a local market. Nothing much else really happens. The old lady is likeable and vulnerable and she is played quite poignantly by the Russian actress. Left on her own in the twilight of her years and with her health failing, she has to come to terms with her loneliness and mortality in an unlikely place. "Alexandra" is a typically contemplative and gloomy Russian film.
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