Arts Review, Movies
Andrey Zvyagintsev, dir & co-script w/Oleg Negin
Starring: Aleksei Serebryakov (Kolia), Elena Lyadova (Lilya), Vladimir Vdovichenkov (Dmitri), Roman Madyanov (Vadim, the mayor), Sergey Pokhodaev (Roma)
Mix the Book of Job with a contemporary tale of political corruption, add in more than a cup of dark Russian soul, dash in a bit of sex and that old-style Eastern Orthodox Christianity, stir rapidly, bake for two hours—and you’ve got Leviathan, the Golden Globe winner for best foreign film. While we’re at it, let’s not forget that the film has already won in the best screenplay category at Cannes 2014 and is nominated for an Oscar as best foreign film.
Leviathan is a compelling film. You’re drawn in right away to hard-core workingman Kolia’s dilemma. His dream house—modern, well built and quite big—is being threatened by the venal mayor of his hometown of Murmansk, in the far north of Russia. Dmitri, a Moscow lawyer and his old Army buddy, is eager to help Kolia—and attack the unscrupulous Vadim, who wants Kolia’s property for himself. Kolia hesitates at one point fairly early in the film—should he fight Vadim and the local powers-that-be or accept his loss and be happy with his beautiful second wife Lilya and son Roma?
While you’re watching the film, you think—go for it, Kolia; with Dmitri, you can take down Vadim and the whole system. And, of course, you’d be wrong. That’s the beauty of Leviathan. There is a grand design to the film, which is all about the return of the oligarchy to Russia, with all of the old ills: profiteering, hypocrisy, and blatant misuse of power. But while you’re immersed in the film, the characters are so realistic and their stories so appealing that you lose sight of the big picture for a long time and simply enjoy the tale, scene by scene.
Leviathan has a novelistic plot, with much going on—betrayals, brutality, a suicide, threatened extortion, and much appalling behaviour. In other words, it’s vastly entertaining. But you know that for Kolia, as one my favourite noir novels put it, “you play the black and the red comes up.” Or as Roman Polanski might have put it, “It’s Russia, Jake.” That doesn’t stop you from caring about him or his fate, of course.
Will Leviathan win the Oscar? It might but my gut tells me that Ida will get the award. Win or not, Leviathan is definitely worth experiencing, just to feed that soulful part of your cinematic diet.
Written by Marc Glassman
Adjunct Professor, Ryerson University
Director, Pages UnBound: the festival and series
Editor, POV Magazine
Editor, Montage Magazine
Film Critic, The New Classical 96.3 FM
Film programmer, Planet in Focus
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