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  • 4 out of 5 stars
Alexandra film
Photograph: Curzon Artificial Eye

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars
Armoured trains, canvas tents, mud, the smell of guns, oil and men: into the Russian army field headquarters in the civil-war zone near Grozny, Chechnya, comes an ailing old woman, Alexandra (Galina Vishnevskaya, right), searching for her soldier grandson (Vasily Shevtsov). Offering the young conscripts meat pies, fixing her grey, plaited hair or poking her nose into the company’s basic latrines, Alexandra cuts an absurd but also a poignant figure – and director Alexander Sokurov observes her with an ex-documentarist’s sense of realism. But, as a director long concerned with the subject of human, spiritual and political oppression, his aims are deeper and his careful depiction of Alexandra’s humanising effect on those she meets is symbolic – most movingly seen in the scenes of the friendship she strikes up with a Chechen woman of her own age.

That the casting of Vishnevskaya – a legendary opera singer – has its own specific emotional impact in Russia is irrelevant: she delivers a touching performance, all the better for its uninflected simplicity. ‘I’m fed up with this military pride!’ she rasps – ‘You can kill. When will you build?’ It’s an approachable film, characterised by a paring down of the more esoteric poetics and psychological enquiries of Sokurov’s earlier work. There’s a hopeful, elegiac, quality to composer Andrei Sigle’s score, and cinematographer Alexander Burov’s images – chiaroscuro at night reminiscent of Ingmar Bergman’s ‘The Seventh Seal’, the red flare of fire in the sky – are not muted, but grounded in the tense, purgatorial realities of the combatants’ lives. It’s also quietly challenging, in its own way, not least in its portrait of old age, its trials, new freedoms and the privilege of changing one’s mind before it becomes too late.
Written by Wally Hammond

Release Details

  • Rated:PG
  • Release date:Friday 26 September 2008
  • Duration:92 mins

Cast and crew

  • Director:Alexander Sokurov
  • Screenwriter:Alexander Sokurov
  • Cast:
    • Andrei Bogdanov
    • Raisa Gichaeva
    • Galina Vishnevskaya
    • Vasily Shevtsov
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