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21 November 2018

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There is a plodding self-absorption to Sokurov’s films that can make them impenetrable or, at times, maddening. That said, there are surely many fans of his art – he counts 17 films and twice as many documentaries.

The story line for Alexandra is simple: Alexandra Nikolayevna (Galina Vishnevskaya) goes to visit her grandson, a captain serving in Chechnya. She stays in the military compound, roams the tents, observes life among the troops, wanders to the market, befriends a Chechen woman, and in general witnesses the alien, emotionless life of the Russian military. Exhausted and demoralized, she departs for home as her son heads off on another mop-up operation.

Sokurov’s laconic, realist style is well-suited to this tale, where everything seems to be brown or dusty green, where nothing much happens, though we sense that somewhere near, just beyond the range of the camera, something soon will. Alexandra wants something better, wants to live near her son, to be at peace. She will attain none of this, but she will have a brief time of tenderness with her grandson.

Filmed inside Chechnya under siege-like conditions, Alexandra is a striking film. Though the overt, spoken anti-war statements come across as trite and forced, this is overshadowed by powerful visuals. And Vishnevskaya (widow of Mstislav Rostropovich) is superb as the tired Alexandra, endearing with her ceaseless mumblings, forgetfulness and deeply feeling heart.

— Paul E. Richardson

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Reviewed in Russian Life: May/June 2009