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October 9, 2007

Alexandra, 2007

alexandra.gifOne of my favorite films from this year's festival is Aleksandr Sokurov's Alexandra, a spare, poetic, and understatedly affirming elegy on the spiritual and moral consequences of a corrosive, interminable war. At the heart and soul of the film is the stubborn and indomitable babushka, Alexandra, played by the famed Russian soprano and sprightly octogenarian (and wife of the late pre-eminent cellist, Mstislav Rostropovich), Galina Vishnevskaya, who, as the film begins, has curiously embarked on an ill advised, physically demanding journey of cramped boxcars, all terrain vehicles, and even battle tanks to arrive at a military outpost near a war torn Chechen village. Waking in her barracks "hotel" to the sight of her devoted, Denis (Vasili Shevtsov), a dashing and well respected officer in the Russian army who maintains a busy schedule with short deployments to insurgency hotspots, Alexandra soon grows weary of the inscrutable, yet highly regulated movements and seemingly arbitrary rules that define life within the camp (a frustration that is understatedly reflected in Alexandra's disorienting navigation through a maze of barracks) and undertakes her own journey to find a sense of normalcy in the most mundane of tasks - going to the local market - where she encounters and finds communion with an elderly Chechen refugee named Malika (Raisa Gichaeva), a former teacher who, now in her twilight years, is forced to make a meager living selling sundries at a market stall under the sobering reality of an inhumane existence in the decimated, occupied village. Returning to the metaphoric landscapes of Spiritual Voices and Confession in their evocative images of quotidian ritual and the profound desolation that exists within the remote frontiers of a long forgotten war, Sokurov uses desaturated sepia tones, arid and barren landscapes, primitive living conditions, and battle-scarred architectures to create a metaphor for a wounded humanity struggling to survive against the madness of conditioned barbarity, where solidarity and a lasting peace are achieved, not in the systematic demoralization of a people, but in the fragile community of mundane, yet defiant, ennobled gestures.

Posted by acquarello on Oct 09, 2007 | | Filed under 2007, New York Film Festival


What a beautiful reading of a film that I, too, thought highly of. The makeshift community that Alexandra gathers around her does seem to be the only bastion left against those in love with war, eh?

Posted by: Maya on Oct 13, 2007 4:06 AM | Permalink

Thanks, Maya. Yeah, I really loved this film, even from my nauseating close seat. I thought Sokurov was also saying something about the notion of an eternal motherland in the film too and how to create a lasting peace, and reinforcing it with that wonderful, makeshift community of women. The men set up barriers and patrols to "keep the peace", the women invite you into their homes and offer you tea and food.

Posted by: acquarello on Oct 13, 2007 12:29 PM | Permalink

A perspective with which I wholly concur. I recall songwriter Eric Anderson dedicating--I think--Blue River--to all the women who have helped with men's liberation. And, a child of the '60s, I am steeped in Joni Mitchell and Laura Nyro who both instilled the value of Mother's Spiritual. "It's not war, it's life she gives; that's how Mother's Spiritual lives." I've never taken that "training" for granted; aware of just how political the personal can be, and especially a remedy when burnt out by the political.

When I began to study film, African cinemas touched me with its pervasive awareness that women are the future of mankind and men--as Mitchell complains in her most recent venture Shine--are all caught up in their "mass murder mystery / history / his story." Perhaps too facile and general an equation altogether; but, a seemingly easy one to make.

My favorite image was of the grandson taking time out from his military duties to braid his grandmother's grey hair.

Posted by: Maya on Oct 15, 2007 10:31 AM | Permalink

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