Monday, 22 September 2008

Aleksandra (Sokurov, 2007)

Sokurov's latest film casts his titular heroine as a defiant Mother Russia figure who's as eccentric as characters get in his closed artistic universe. Aleksandra's visit to her grandson, stationed at a military barracks in Chechnya, offers the director a rare opportunity to comment on contemporary regional turmoils. Those familiar with films such as The Sun however, will soon realize that Sokurov has minimal interest in politicizing his threadbare narratives. Instead, he typically elevates his film unto a plane above everyday reality: characters don't talk so much as they mumble against the audible gasps of their desolate environment; deliberately poor dubbing gives the effect of dialogue emanating from the subconscious; and all the while, a plaintive symphony interpolates the soundscape, punctuating the most emotionally-charged moments with a heavy dose of appealing irony. Sokurov's imagery remains as beautifully stark as ever, appearing as if saturated by a celestial presence that leaves the natural looking artificial. It is against this backdrop that Aleksandra and her companions can be caught moralizing with jarring frankness - their strained confessions forming the discursive backbone of the director's poetic ruminations on the wayward Russian spirit. This rambling approach to so substantial a subject pays dividends: the national question, stifled by Sokurov's elegiac construction, both transcends and relapses into something more akin to intimate self-analysis. The very notion of Russian identity is deconstructed into an abstract conflict of spiritualism vs. realism. Aleksandra embodies the former, her grandson the latter, and in his tender examination of their familial bond Sokurov charts the ebbs and flows of this most peculiar conception of nationality. Even if his evaluations are lacking and somewhat misguided in their political foundations, his crisis of the Russian soul's moody allure strikes a chord that's as relevant as much as it is resonant. When Aleksandra's Chechen counterparts bid her farewell at film's end, their outpouring of affection may well have concluded the most crushing fantasy of the 21st century.

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