Aleksandra (Alexandra) (2007)
Dictator: Aleksandra Sokurov.
Starring: Galina Vishnevskaya (Aleksandra Nikolaevna), Vasily Shevtsov (Denis), Raisa Gichaeva (Malika).
Russian movie set in the Second Russian-Chechen war (started 1999)
Spoiler warning: below is a summary of the entire film.
An old woman named Alexandra gets off a bus. She looks around the area taking it in. Two civilians want to carry her bag for her, but she insists on grabbing two Russian soldiers to help her. They take her over to the train she wants. At first they say she will be sitting in the armored train car. But then they put her on a box car instead. As the soldiers get on board, they all say hello to her. The soldiers sit down on the benches of the box car. The train starts moving.
Alexandra walks to the far end of the box car where there are no soldiers. A soldier gets up and goes to the back and sits beside Alexandra. The officer gives him a not pleased look and the fellow goes back to his seat.
The train stops. The officers gets everybody up to get off the train. Major Mazour comes to help Alexandra get off the train. She asks where's her grandson Denis and the Major says his squadron will be back tonight. They help her off the train. They put her in an armored personnel carrier, but not through the back. She has to go down in a hatch in the front. They take the woman right to her grandson's tent. They put her in the room where Denis sleeps. She gets in bed and goes to sleep.
When she gets up in the morning, she sees Denis sleeping in another bed. Denis wakes up and gives her a real big bear-hug. This morning he says he will take grandmother on a tour of the camp. She stops and watches the men cleaning their weapons to make sure they don't get clogged up. She seems interested in every aspects of the life of a soldier. Denis takes her over to look at the insides of an armored personnel carrier. Grandmother says it smells in here. Denis tells her that it's a combination smell of guns, iron and men. They can get 10 or more men inside the vehicle. She does not seem to like the tight quarters.
Back in the tent, Grandmother is tired. She asks if Denis is tired and he says: "Always." She now tells him that he has to be more attentive to his body. He's not keeping his body clean enough. She adds: "You look like a peasant, not an officer." He says maybe he would be a better officer if he hadn't killed so many people. Grandmother says he's not the only one who has shot people. And just because a man falls to the ground, doesn't necessarily mean that he is dead. Denis takes some of the goodies she brought for the men, saying to grandmother that this will make the men happy.
She looks around and decides to go outside. She says that not everyone is sleeping, because there are still a lot of men moving around. She walks around. A young fellow asks her if she is looking for someone. She just keeps on walking. She doesn't need any help She thanks the fellow anyway.
Two guards asks her what she is doing? They check her bags. She says she wants to go sit down. She walks over to the little guard shed and sits down outside. The young guard keeps staring at her. He asks her why is she staring at him and grandmother says why does the soldier keep staring at her? He says it's his duty. She says, sure. She gets up and walks over by the gate. Grandmother asks the guards if they are afraid of the enemy? One says yes and the other says no. Are you homesick? One fellow says no. He adds that he thought she was from around here and for a moment thought he was a dead man. She says she wasn't going to kill anyone.
Grandmother says she's tired and goes and sits down again. The guards are afraid she will topple over and hurt herself. One fellows says: "You're gonna fall over, grandma!" She retorts: "No I won't, granddad." Both guards find that funny and laugh. Looking out toward the mountains, one can see lots of fires burning.
The next morning, grandmother is still by the guard shack sleeping on the stool. She awakens and looks around. She starts back to her room. An officer tells her that last night she was in the mine field. He wants to talk to her in private. She asks who is he and he says he's the unit commander. She then asks if Denis is in his unit? The commanders says yes, but it's usually girls that come to visit Denis. He asks her why she came? She says it's been so long that they have been fighting here. Grandmother adds: "It's not right." The commander says that her grandson is one of the best professional soldiers in the division.
Grandmother asks: "You can destroy! When will you learn to rebuild?" She also worries about the day that Denis is discharged. What will he do because he only knows how to shoot people? The commander says he doesn't really understand grandmother. She asks where is her "hotel"? He laughs and points the way. She walks over to the armored personnel carrier. Her grandson comes up behind her and gives her a hug. He asks her why she didn't sleep last night? And he insists that she get some sleep now. He hops on the top of the vehicle and the vehicle takes off.
A young man waits with grandmother and she tells him to go. He says he can't. He's supposed to get her some food and look after her a bit. Grandmother says she can't stand people watching her. She says he can go. If she gets hungry, she will come find the fellow, Andrey.
She goes to her room, but can't stay put. She goes to the "exit" and the guards aren't too sure about her. Is she allowed to go outside? Grandmother says yes. She wants to go to the market. The guys tell her how to get there. Then they ask if she can buy them any cigarettes? She says yes. And what else? Some cookies. But, says the guards, they have no money to pay her. She's not phased by that.
At the market she tries to buy some cigarettes, but the young fellow won't sell any to her because she is Russian. She feels tired and a woman vendor named Malika has her sit down. Alexandra did want to buy some cigarettes, but it seems she left her money back at the tent. Malika says that when they look at the Russian soldiers they look likes kids. They are so young. Alexandra looks at the young lad who would not sell cigarettes to her and she says that the Chechen youth are angry. Malika says that when that fellow was young he was nice, but now he's totally changed. She adds: "I'm afraid they'll all get like that."
The other vendors keep staring over at Malika and Alexandra. Malika is thinking of going home because no one seems to be buying now. The woman gives Alexandra cigarettes and four cookies. She says she lives nearby and Alexandra can have a rest at her place. Malika sees vendor Zoulai and tells her that if anyone wants to buy something from her stall, sell it to them and collect the money.
At Malika's place Alexandra complains about how painful one of her legs feels. Malika lets her lay down and takes off her shoes. Alexandra says her husband died two years ago. He was hard to live with him because he was cruel and was always shouting at her. Now that she is alone, she says she lives for herself. But she says she is a fool for coming on such a trip with her bad legs. Malika tells Alexandra: "Everything's been destroyed here. Not just the houses. Life has been turned upside down." Alexandra feels stronger and decides to go. Malika goes and gets the neighbor's boy to escort her back. Alexandra says that's not necessary, but Malika says the boy knows a short-cut back.
The apartment building Malika lives in has been hit by artillery shells. There are holes in the walls and the place looks a bit like it's falling down. The boy walks Alexandra back to the base. As he does so he tells her that the Chechens want their freedom. Why can't the Russians give them their freedom? Alexandra only says it's not as simple as that. At the gate, Alexandra gives out the cigarettes and the cookies to the guys who asked for them. The boy starts back for home.
Andrey is right there to take her back to her "hotel". He says all day the officers were giving him problems because Alexandra was not at the base. He says her son the captain has been taking it out on him all day. Andrey tells the other soldiers at the mess hall to get a table for Alexandra and some food. They bring her some food from what little is left over. They also bring some flowers in a vase for her. She eats the buckwheat and meat and says that they have a good cook. After she eats a little of the food, Andrey takes her home.
Grandmother talks to grandson. He says one of the guys got a good hiding because he disobeyed orders. The grandson tells her that they had to do a search in town today. Grandmother asks him: "Did you kill anyone?" He says nothing. Grandmother says he's not liked much around here and he says the more important worry is that they are not feared around here. "What good is the army if we're not feared!?"
Grandson asks grandmother why did she leave camp? She says she won't tell him that. She asks why doesn't her get married? He says out of respect for grandmother. She asks him again and he says he is too poor to marry.
Grandmother tells her grandson that she really misses him. And she also feels that her life is coming to an end, but she wants to live. Alexandra tells him: "I love you." And she says she would like somebody by her side because she is not good on her own. She starts crying. He comforts her and then braids her hair.
In the morning Denis awakens his grandmother and tells her that he is going away for five days and that she should go home now. He leaves.
Grandmother gathers her belongings to get ready to go home. She walks along a line of trucks. It seems that the soldiers are going on some big maneuver. Denis comes over and says hello to her again. He gives her his beret and she holds it close to her heart. The trucks start moving out as do other vehicles. She walks behind the long convoy.
She goes to the market and there meets with Malika again and two of her friends. They help Alexandra go over to the train. Alexandra wants Malika to come to visit her. Malika has her address now. The four women hug each other. Malika says she will come visit her.
What a charming film. It's the little things that make it so involving. The love of a grandmother for her son in a war zone and the love of the grandson for his grandmother. There are some beautifully touching scenes between the two of them. Grandmother is very lonely after the death of her husband and she felt she just had to reconnect with her grandson. It's the little things. The great warmth that develops between the Russian grandmother and a Chechen grandmother. The gratitude that Alexandra feels for the wonderful reception of her by the Chechen woman. (Some of the Chechens hate Russians.) Alexandra invites the Chechen grandmother Malika to come to visit her at her home. Malika says she will visit her. Then there's the warmth of feeling that develops between some of the soldiers and grandmother. Many are very solicitous toward her as if she were their own grandmother. Many a soldier asked her if she needed help in any way. They wanted to do something for grandmother. These small acts of kindness add up to a warm feeling about the great possibilities of love and respect for other human beings. I highly recommend the film.
Patrick Louis Cooney, Ph. D.
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