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This film makes a good accompaniment to Beaufort, which I saw the night before this at the Melbourne International Film Festival. While both are very different stories, they use similar visual techniques and are war films with subtle anti-war messages. Aleksandra is an elderly woman who visits her grandson, a Russian army officer, at his army camp inside Chechnya. The entirety of the film follows Aleksandra, including her lengthy journey on the train with other soldiers, her arrival and her interactions with various incidental characters.
The film is very observational, capturing the strength of character of this feisty woman who is intimidated by neither the macho Russian soldiers questioning her identity and what she is doing in this godforsaken place (in the middle of a scorching summer), nor by the hostile Chechens whose towns have been obliterated by the Russian army.
Any critique of war is subtle and in passing. Even if this was the director's primary intent, he keeps the audience focus on the humanistic elements of the film. There is excellent character development, and the naturalistic depictions of camaraderie and bonding of unlikely friends is very moving. This is a well-written, original and quietly accomplished film that will appeal to audiences who are not fond of war films.
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