Tuesday, September 30, 2008

ALEKSANSRA / ALEXANDRA - alpha gamma agit-prop

ALEXANDRA is the latest movie from Russian auteur Aleksandr Sokurov, known in the West, if at all, for his movie RUSSIAN ARK. RUSSIAN ARK is a technical tour-de-force - a feature-length movie comprising a single tracking shot that winds it way around the Hermitage. Technical achievement aside, RUSSIAN ARK is a surreal and evocative work that manages to capture something of the shifting use and symbolism of that building and with it, the shifting social and political life of Russia itself. The slow steady camera movement, lack of conventional narrative, and snatches of brief conversations work well in RUSSIAN ARK. The simulatenously tight and loose structure leaves the audience space to work out the meaning of the film.

Sokurov's latest film, ALEXANDRA, adopts some of the same techniques as RUSSIAN ARK but without the technical conceit. As with RUSSIAN ARK we have a focal character who ambles through a set without much purpose or direction - alighting on conversations here and there - allowing us to weave our own narrative. The French marquis of ARK is replaced by an indefatigable grandmother, Alexandra, who is visiting her grandson at an army camp in Chechnya. She wanders around, asking basic questions of officers and grunts, shuffling into town, taking tea with the locals, and shuffling back. The movie shuffles about too, almost listless in the perishing heat of the desert, and drowned in sepia-tint and a rather mawkish orchestral score.

At first, I was frustrated by the lack of pace and purpose in the film, but after half an hour or so I was lulled into its somnabulent pace and tuned my eyes and ears to the small details that Alexandra was picking up on: the terminal exhaustion, constant hunger and grim resignation on both sides of the war. And, as Sokurov makes clear, this isn't just about the Chechen war but war in general. Sometimes it takes an obstinate, simple woman to ask the obvious questions and point to the painful truth of a situation - the reality behind jingoistic Russian nationalism. Finally, I found myself if not quite enjoying ALEXANDRA, at least admiring its intentions and innovative style. As a cineaste, it was definitely worth watching, but the occasional viewer may find it a stretch.

ALEKSANDRA played Cannes, Toronto and London 2007. It was released in Greece, France, Belgium, Russia and Poland in 2007. It was released earlier this year in the Netherlands, the US and Turkey and is currently on release in the UK.

No comments:

Post a Comment