MIFF: Alexandra (Russia)


Alexander Sokurov is known for making films that walk the knife-edge of indulgent minimalism. To some, his films are devoid of plots, deliberately obscure and fundamentally boring. Then there are some of us who think his films are pretty damn good. Then there are the ardent Sokurists who bow down before his Slavic certainty like he’s Andrei Tarkovsky’s second coming. As you might have divined, I fit into the middle camp. Alexandra confirms for me that Sokurov is a filmmaker on top of his game. War from the perspective of the innocent is not an unheard of genre, see Turtles Can Fly, but its capacity to make us look again has lost none of its power. The war between Russia and Chechen separatists has been waged for many years now but rarely makes it into our consciousness, we are after all too busy with imagined threats to deal with the concrete reality of a people ravaged by endless fighting. Alexandra is a stolid and stoic babushka with an air of impenetrable seriousness, but even she is left moved by the scars she witnesses. She wanders the dusty, sepia-tinged barracks and village chatting to those who’ll listen, listening to those who’ll chat. There is something other-wordly about Alexandra in this landscape and the Russian soldiers, many of whom are too young for a beard, are mesmerised by her presence, as though the world back home that she perhaps engenders had become something exotic and alien to them. Sokurov interlaces the Russian military characters with local Chechens, some of whom are mutely condemnatory of anything Russian, while others find the commonality, the humanity that is shared in order to forge new friendships. The film is in its form meditative, at times funny yet the portrait of life and war that it paints is stern, grim and despondent. There is hope, but like Alexandra, it is there only fleetingly before, helped on to a train, it pulls away and out of sight, leaving those who remain to continue as they were, at least for now.

Screening at Regent: Sun, 12th of August, 3:10 PM