We enter Alexandra’s Russian army outpost with the eponymous protagonist, via a series of rides in bulletproofed military vehicles. If this journey across arid wilderness feels like passage into an alternate dimension, the labyrinthine outpost at its end confirms the impression. Clinging to the edge of civilization, the huddled tents where Alexandra (veteran opera star Galina Vishnevskaya) has come to visit her grandson house young men jaded beyond their years.
In many ways, in fact, Alexandra could be a cynic’s militarized revision of Peter Pan. The fantastical Neverland is worn down to a mythic and harsh dust plane. The soldiers — veritable Lost Boys — display the shy awkwardness of teenagers, but are as resigned to their daily tedium as veterans of the Cold War front. To these eternally young men, Alexandra looks like Wendy flying into Neverland: proof there’s another world where things change and people age. She moves soldiers from their resolved silence and makes friends in a bombed-out town nearby.
Surprisingly, though, director Alexander Sokurov never locates this town and base in the real world. In Alexandra, Sokurov’s string of historical dramas (culminating in the single-take history lesson-via-museum tour Russian Ark) gives way to a universal tale of squandered youth. This film doesn’t address a specific contemporary conflict so much as the lives snarled in war’s grinding and clanging machinery.
Is it intentional or unfortunate, then, that watching Alexandra feels something like being trapped in its military Neverland? Alexander Burov’s languid cinematography of the sun-bleached outpost reinforces the oppressive stillness, as do the young actors’ stoic dispositions. But, like new arrivals at the base on the border with oblivion, we want things to move more quickly.
Opens March 26 at Film Forum