Alexandra is an elderly Russian woman on a short visit to her grandson, a Russian army officer, stationed in Grozny, Chechnya. The camp is spartan, military life is oppressive and isolating, the heat is stifling. At first she’s delighted to see him, but soon challenges him about the sterility of his life. When he heads out on an armoured patrol, she sets off too, walking into the ruined city.
Alexandra is as stalwart as the young soldiers, but questioning and frank rather than buttoned up, and capable of fellow feeling. The soldiers warm to her. In a local market she talks to a Chechen woman who takes her back to her bomb-damaged apartment to rest.
Sokurov, stylist and symbolist, maker of the single-take Russian Ark, doesn’t delve into the politics of the Chechen war. His concern is what war does to people’s humanity and how, without trust, touch and intimacy, we’re lost.