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With: Galina Vishnevskaya, Vasily Shevtsov, Raisa Gichaeva, Andrei Bogdanov, Alexander Kladko, Aleksei Nejmyshev, Rustam Shahgireev, Evgeni Tkachuk
Written by: Alexander Sokurov
Directed by: Alexander Sokurov
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Language: Russian, with English subtitles
Running Time: 90
Date: 05/25/2007

Alexandra (2008)

3 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

The Last Time I Saw Barracks

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

SAN FRANCISCO INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL: Alexander Sokurov's excellent new Alexandra begins with an almost laughable scenario: an elderly woman (opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya) travels to the front lines to visit her grandson, an army captain, Denis (Vasily Shevtsov), with the Russian army during the occupation of Chechnya. She totters around, struggling to climb in and out of trains and tanks and barracks. Denis and Alexandra have only a few scenes together, but they resemble the deeply moving relationship depicted in Sokurov's masterpiece Mother and Son (1997), full of touching, cradling, and honest conversation. ("You're so beautiful," the grandson says when she unbraids her brittle, gray hair.) Despite their talks, however, they never seem to get any closer, and Denis is always running off for missions. Alexandra spends time wandering around the camp, and we see Sokurov's obsession for (shirtless) men bonding and working under tight conditions. The men treat her at times with queenly dignity and like a child at other times, and she responds in kind. It has a similar look to his previous films; it still has a vivid texture, but harder and less painterly. Alexandra often comments on the heat and the smells; we can practically taste cigarettes and dust. Her breakthrough comes when she visits a nearby market and befriends a local saleslady; though they are from different regions, their age places them far above and away from any military conflict.

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