Alexandra Alexander Sokurov

Alexandra Alexander Sokurov

Alexander Sokurov is the kind of master who amazes and infuriates in equal measure — there’s no denying his artistry or his seriousness but his grandiose sweep of the arm can sometimes lapse into arrogance. But no matter what political assumptions he makes during the short running time of Alexandra, the sensitivity he brings to the material forgives all sins.

The Alexandra of the title is an elderly woman visiting Chechnya for the sake of her soldier son; she’s taken into his encampment and witnesses the boys as they play with their guns, gobble down her gifts of food and blithely accept the fact that they’ve been sent off to die. Our heroine is stunned at this, as is Sokurov, and as she wanders out of the camp and back to it we see her desire to live differently.

The movie is a nuanced and sensuous portrait of military life like nothing since Claire Denis’s Beau Travail. Though it sadly evades a proper position on the Chechnya conflict, its evocation of a normalised war culture and the lack of resistance surrounding it are better than most films can even imagine. So to are the director’s typically gorgeous golden hues and fluid, enveloping environment.

Cinematic critics of the Iraq war could learn a lot from this movie: its approach, which makes human what is usually idealised or demonised, might help break the deadlock between moralism and sympathy, which plagues the debate, as well as replacing the mushy rhetoric that vulgarises the discourse.

I’m not exactly sure that this is an anti-war movie but Sokurov’s beautiful plunge into the cosmic unfairness of it all was enough to lodge the movie in my brain and let it grow in significance with each passing day. (Proline/Rezo)