Spare yet tactile, a mysterious mixture of lightness and gravity, Alexander Sokurov's Alexandra is founded on contradiction. Musing on war in general and the Russian occupation of Chechnya in particular, this is a movie in which combat is never shown. The star, octogenarian Galina Vishnevskaya, is an opera diva who never sings. Sokurov, who has more than once attempted to document the Russian soul, may be a visionary, but his eponymous protagonist is resolutely down-to-earth. An instant anomaly, Alexandra clambers out from a transport train into a dusty station—presumably at some point during the second Chechen war. Stern and stolid, when not sighing with annoyance, the old lady is surrounded by Russian troops and a swirl of whispers, laughs, and faint melody. Alexandra has come to see her grandson, an army captain in his late 20s, and is escorted to the base, at one point riding in a tank. The son of a Soviet military officer, Sokurov spent his childhood moving from base to base, and there's a mascot quality to Alexandra as she makes her tour of inspection. The movie has no shortage of incident, but it's less a narrative than a situation: The emphasis is on boredom and routine. Sokurov may not clarify the situation in Chechnya but, in chronicling Alexandra's trip to the front, he illuminates its reality.
Vishnevskaya is the diva of an opera without end.
Runs at Varsity, Fri., July 18–Thurs., July 24. Not rated. 92 minutes.