Love between generations in poetic 'Alexandra'

Review A

July 25, 2008|By Kevin Thomas | Kevin Thomas,LOS ANGELES TIMES

The luminous humanity that characterizes the films of Alexander Sokurov is in full force in Alexandra. On the surface, it is a work of the utmost simplicity but is charged with the eternal complexities and contradictions of both love and war.

In the title role is the internationally renowned 81-year-old opera star Galina Vishnevskaya, but there is nothing operatic in her sublimely understated portrayal; Vishnevskaya understands that acting for the camera will require "something entirely different."

Since this beautiful film unfolds without any exposition whatsoever, it seems at first that a team of Russian soldiers may be evacuating Alexandra from her small town, first by troop train and then by tank. As it happens, Alexandra's 27-year-old grandson (Vasily Shevtsov), an army captain, is taking her for a visit to his desolate military outpost near Grozny, Chechnya.

Alexandra is a lovely, sturdy woman with a regal bearing, yet she's warm and compassionate. She is direct, intelligent and reflective, and clearly resilient. The soldiers do not quite know what to make of her at first, but she innately commands respect and courtesy.

There is a gentle humor in Alexandra's encounters with the soldiers as she wanders about the outpost, but Sokurov has much more in mind. Significantly, Alexandra is not a conventional anti-war picture. Sokurov allows the viewer to experience the effect of the sheer youth of the soldiers - most of whom look to be barely 20 - upon Alexandra as well as the effect of the kindness of an elderly Chechen woman (Raisa Gichaeva) upon her. But he looks beyond such emotional moments to suggest that the human condition is nevertheless ultimately tragic.

Sokurov and Alexandra aren't buying into the notion that solidarity between women on different sides of a war means much as a deterrent to battle, and Sokurov respects soldiers and their sacrifices even if he does not support the cause for which they are fighting. What he does believe in is the transforming power of friendship and love between individuals. In this regard, Alexandra can be seen as part of a trilogy exploring love between generations that includes Mother and Son (1997) and Father and Son (2003).

Kevin Thomas writes for the Los Angeles Times.

Alexandra

(Cinema Guild) Starring Galina Vishnevskaya, Vasily Shevtsov. Written and directed by Alexander Sokurov. Unrated. Time 95 minutes. In Russian with English subtitles.

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