An unusual antiwar picture

Posted: May 02, 2008

In Alexandra, Russian director Alexander Sokurov uses the incongruous image of a dignified old woman waddling around a shabby army base to get at the futility and ugliness of war.

A slow-moving and fastidiously staged affair starring opera great Galina Vishnevskaya in the title role, Alexandra offers an undisguised condemnation of Russia's seemingly endless military operations in Chechnya. The woman has come to this desolate, dilapidated compound of barracks, with its rumbling tanks, its ranks of young men with dirty uniforms, to visit her grandson, Denis (Vasily Shevtsov). He is a captain here, a professional soldier. It has been years since the two have met.

They talk. They walk. He goes to lead his troops into the barren hills. She goes to town, and strikes up a conversation with a friendly old Chechen woman (Raisa Gichaeva). The grandson returns. The grandmother criticizes the camp's conditions. She asks Denis why he doesn't get married.

They talk. She walks. The heat is sweltering, the smell of the men and their detritus unpleasant, the land hard and bleak.

Alexandra never depicts the soldiers in combat, but Sokurov nonetheless shows how war can break down the social structure, break down family, break the human soul.


Alexandra *** (out of four stars)

Directed by Alexander Sokurov. With Galina Vishnevskaya, Vasily Shevtsov and Raisa Gichaeva. Distributed by the Cinema Guild. In Russian and Chechen with subtitles.

Running time: 1 hour, 35 mins.

Parent's guide: No MPAA rating (adult themes)

Playing at: Ritz at the Bourse


Contact movie critic Steven Rea

at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com.

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