Both director and title might test one’s powers of pronunciation, but Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan is exactly the marvellous pus-exuding, bloated whale of a film that its heavyweight name suggests: a remarkable jab at modern-day Russia that shows the cruel effects of psychological pressure over time. The film follows the trials of a man named Nikolai, a fisherman living in relative bliss with a loving son, a beautiful wife and a fine house on the Barents Sea. All is not well, however. The local mayor wishes to snatch up the land, but Nikolai’s not willing to sell. His defiance proves detrimental. Local government crooks get involved in the deal and soon an out-of-town lawyer gets involved with his wife. The thugs are brutal. The crashing waves wear Nikolai down. The Book of Job is no stranger to cinematic interpretation, but Leviathan takes it to screen with welcome political subversion. In the film’s most hilarious scene, Nikolai’s mates get hammered and use pictures of ex-presidents for target practice. How any of it got through Russia’s allegedly rigorous cultural regulations is ambiguous at best, but the state did see fit to enter the film for the Academy Awards. Integrity or PR? Whichever. Russia confirms a new master.
Leviathan | Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev (Russia 2014) with Aleksey Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova (Russian with German subs). Starts March 12
Originally published in issue #136, March 2015