Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Alexander: Warrior Saint (2008)

Alexander Nevsky, Prince of Novgorod, is one of Russia's great national heroes; the leader who defeated the invasion of the Teutonic Knights and ensured that the Russian people remained in the Orthodox, rather than Catholic, faith.  His battle with the knightly order was the subject of an eponymous film by Sergei Eisenstein in 1938, which is widely regarded as one of the great works of Soviet cinema.

This is not that film.  In fact, it is not even about Alexander's war with the Teutonic Knights.  Instead it focuses on the earlier struggle that gave him the sobriquet "Nevsky" (which means "of the Neva"; the Neva being a river in the region).  This was a Swedish invasion of Novgorod in 1240 AD.

The Swedish threat comes at a difficult time for Alexander.  He is threatened from another direction as well: the powerful Tatar Empire is at his gates.  Unlike the westerners, however, they do not care what faith the Russian people follow.  They care only whether or not they receive tribute.  For the devout Alexander, the answer is clear; he must bow to Tatar demands in order to shepherd the souls of his people.  There are powerful factions in his realm who disagree, however, and the young prince will be faced with treason and treachery before he can cross swords with the Swedes in open warfare.

The film is in Russian, so it's difficult to judge the acting in detail, but it seems pretty solid on the whole.  There's a scene between two of Nevsky's enemies - a father and son - that communicates complex emotions quite effectively, even when reading subtitles.

On the other hand, things do seem a bit uneven script-wise.  There are some good elements - the scene I mentioned above, for instance, and the fact that Alexander is allowed to make mistakes - but also some poor ones.  The opening and closing narration clunks quite badly, for instance.  There's also a kind of lightweight Lancelot-esque subplot involving Alexander's best friend falling for Alexander's wife.  It doesn't work very well to be frank.  Finally, the action sequences have a number of jarring tone-shifts from comical to dramatic to supposed-to-be-dramatic-but-actually-comical.

Overall, it's not a bad film, but it's also not good enough that I can really recommend it unless you have a passion for medieval period pieces, or for movies that deal with "obscure" (to western audiences) events.

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