Dir: Andrei Zvyagintsev (2014)
Stellar Russian film maker and now cinematic political insurgent, Andrei Zvyagintsev, has lifted his Leviathan to incredible heights. The director (of the excellent Elena, The Return and The Banishment) has scored a number of big wins for his masterful fourth film already, including a Golden Globe, and, with an Oscar win on the cards later this month, and a release in his home country, Zvyagintsev’s darkest film might be his most raw and important. A near re-telling of the book of Job (but with a direct, cheeky Pussy Riot reference); A down and outer film of epic proportions which pivots on the seizure of a family home by the Barents Sea in a small Northern Russian town; An honest man and a corrupt government, both foul-mouthed drunkards, go head to head in a compelling and stunningly shot fable.
Kolia (Alexey Serebriakov) is a struggling mechanic. His beautiful younger wife, Lilya (Elena Lyadova), works early to late shifts in the fish factory in town and his best friend, lawyer and old army buddy, Dimitry (Vladimir Vdovichencov) is visiting to kindly take care of the paperwork and trials against the corrupt local bureaucracy. His son Roma (Sergueï Pokhodaev) seems at a distance from his father and his young step mother, like most teenagers are. The camp fire drinking sessions he has with his friends are not unlike his fathers vodka fuelled shooting trips; One of which we are privy to; A sort of insane family picnic which gets out of hand as a devastating secret is revealed provides the boiling point of Leviathan before Zvyagintsev takes the fall of Kolia incredibly seriously and slowly.
Wrestling with faith, family and fate, Kolia’s drunken anger is cast into a fish-less low tide where an old skeleton of a whale sticks out of the river bed like a deathly reminder of the past, and perhaps the future. It may also be a shadow of the crooked mayor (a brilliantly acidic Roman Madyanov), a glorified land baron with ulterior motives and a portrait of Putin which resides over his large office desk. Other leaders of Russia come under fire, quite literally; It’s not hard to see why a large internet word of mouth (and piracy) has finally pushed for the release of Leviathan on home soil.
It’s a film full of wonder, pain, strange humour and a sense of helplessness all rendered in simple, naturally lit, yet stunning cinematography. The director who many are comparing (rightly, in our humble opinion) to Andrei Tarkovsky takes his themes and aspirations from the same prickly place but, here, also from Thomas Hobbes’ 1651 novel of the same name; A sprawling examination of the inner workings of an undivided government and the rights of the people.
But, of course, the film which could be Leviathan‘s equal and mirror is Tarkovsky’s final work The Sacrifice in which a man bargains with the universe to prevent a nuclear war; Zvyagintsev‘s war is much more familiar and less grandiose and philosophical but the social bass notes are rooted in the same place and the finale, a perfectly realised angel of death, is just as devastating. Leviathan is a film which feels humble and almost too modestly measured but it grows in size and power rearing out of the water like a giant beast long after you’ve witnessed it’s appearance, tiny, on the horizon.