Phyllida Lloyd on Alexander Sokurov’s ‘Alexandra’

Director stirs clear of melodrama, sentimentality

A Russian woman visits her soldier grandson in war-ravaged Chechnya. She shuffles about the camp with a kind of perplexed authority, meeting soldiers, chatting to her grandson and tottering off for some shopping in the nearby Chechen market. She could easily be an American woman in Iraq. She has come to make sense of it all. At every moment, tainted by my own prejudice and the cliches of Hollywood, I was in a state of apprehension. The grandson will be killed, she will die, the Chechen boy who escorts her back to the camp will be beaten senseless by the Russian soldiers. But director Alexander Sokurov swerves away from melodrama or sentimentality to show scene after scene of infinite tenderness and humanity. The great Russian opera singer Galina Vishnevskaya, giving a performance of fathomless wisdom and compassion, makes Alexandra a transforming spirit. She befriends her enemies and mesmerizes the young recruits.

Scenes that appear ad hoc in their documentary simplicity again and again bloom into ones of tragic beauty and grandeur. Andre Sigle’s music, the apocalyptic landscape and the director’s masterly shuffling of his elements make — without any gunfire or blood — an overwhelmingly moving antiwar movie.

“Mamma Mia!” director Phyllida Lloyd returns to Broadway to helm the upcoming revival of “Mary Stuart,” to open April 19.

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