Thursday, November 30, 2023
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Alexander Nevsky Review

Horrible war may be, they do make for some fine storytelling experiences. Hero of medieval Russia, Alexander Nevsky, brings out an expressive feature from Sergei Eisenstein and Dmitriy Vasilev Their desire to not only capture the man Nevsky was, but the articulated world around him, serves them well. Their war epic is regarded by their home country as one of the finest films of war available, and it is clear to see why. Quelling the fear found within the men and women of Soviet Russia, the aim of Alexander Nevsky appears to be that of inspiring the fight against an oppressive foe that lingers on the horizon. Made in part as propaganda to cause a stir, to guide the minds of Russia against the threat of Nazi Germany.

What seems so surprising though is that, for a film intended to be propaganda, there is a genuine understanding of the man at the heart of it all and a desire to create a biopic fuelled by fact. Stunning work is provided by these directors, and working closely with cinematographer Eduard Tisse once again, this directing pair leave their mark on the life of Alexander Nevsky (Nikolai Cherkasov). Their grandiose designs and ability to embed gestures of historical knowledge strengthens the core of their work. Its production is impressive, and as rows of Nevsky’s forces join together to quell the rise of Teutonic Knights, the costume design brings an extraordinary level of detail to the film. They are plain, but the sheer volume on display is impressive.

Cluttered scenes are abundant, but the variety of unique elements presented is a stunning accomplishment. There is something rather comforting about the blend between sound stage replication of the real world and the great outdoors, for it allows Alexander Nevsky to regain control of the wilderness when it is needed most. From small details like trees blowing in the wind to the larger, arguably more important moments with legions of troops sprinting off to war, there is a remarkable quality to it all. The silence that comes during the fight scenes, followed by the clattering of swords and the empty spaces where the battle was fought expresses more emotion than actually seeing the guts and gore of war.

There is an inherent politicisation to Alexander Nevsky, one that rallies the patriotism of its Soviet subjects into fuelling the war effort of the time. Eisenstein and Vasilev craft a keen example of just how powerful the moving picture is to audiences across the globe. Their feature never feels like propaganda, but it certainly demonstrates the desires of such. Crucially, though, the piece is a strong film that muses on old ways of living and the heroes that formed the towns and cities the current generation thrive in. As both a historical document and piece of cinema, Alexander Nevsky is a vital addition to the war genre, showing that war is hell, but an inevitable reaction to dark, disgusting forces that shake the problematic status quo. Eisenstein and Vasilev craft a well-composed warning to those that do not fight for what they believe in, even if it costs them their lives.

Ewan Gleadow
Ewan Gleadow
Editor in Chief at Cult Following | News and culture journalist at Clapper, Daily Star, NewcastleWorld, Daily Mirror | Podcast host of (Don't) Listen to This | Disaster magnet

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