Saturday, August 8, 2015

Alexandra: Film Review

Released 25 May 2007.
Alexandra (2007) is a Russian film (with English subtitles) about a Russian grandmother traveling to see her grandson Denis while he is working as a senior lieutenant on a military base.  The setting is the Second Chechen War.

Usually, war movies have an abundance of male energy: action scenes, violence, chest beating, domination of women and so forth.

This film departs dramatically from these common tropes.

In Alexandra, the camera's viewpoint is that of a mature woman. She walks through the camp and evaluates the men, their weapons, the camp and their cause.

From her generational perspective and her gendered perspective, the men are suffering horrible conditions and fighting for unclear reasons. She worries that her grandson and his fellow soldiers will end up more damaged by the war than rewarded for their efforts.

But the men are loathe to accept her critique.  Their reaction to her varies from finding her irritating, humorous or endearing.

Alexandra comments on the living conditions--the tents, the beds, the food, the clothes, the hygiene and so forth. On one level, this looks like nagging. But these are valid observations about the difficult conditions these men must endure.

The camera not only focuses on the physical surroundings, it also regards the faces of the soldiers. Alexandra regards these faces as beautiful, vulnerable and young. Overtly, she asks a soldier, "How old are you?" He seems much younger than his reply.

She asks her grandson about what he's doing specifically and what this line of work is doing to him in general. Again, this might look like nagging at first blush. However, she can take the long view, having seen many men over several decades suffer the consequences of such a life.   In a couple of scenes, she talks with Chechen woman of a similar age. They minimize their cultural and politcal differences by agreeing about the absurdity and wastefulness of war.

At times, the soldiers try to keep Alexandra in line by escorting her or giving her overt commands. She literally waves them off, defying their authority--even while they are armed.  At her age, she's not going to let an army of boys tell her what to do.  Her grounded nature and wisdom reminds me of the ideals of the crone, an archetype described by psychologist Carl Jung.

Most striking for me was just the contrast between the warmth of woman dressed for the market and the sterility of the military camp itself. I'm not sure how to respond to the visual juxtaposition of her dragging a shopping bag alongside a tank. The director probably has at least three responses in mind, all equally valid.

I will let you fill in the blanks of this understated but powerful film.


Films about Aging
Aging Disgracefully

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