In a small Russian coastal town, Kolia (Aleksey Serebrayakov) is forced to fight the corrupt mayor Vadim (Roman Madyanov) when he is told that his age-old waterside house and motor workshop will be taken over by the municipality and demolished, supposedly for town use. He recruits Dmitriy (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) a lawyer friend from Moscow to help, but the man's arrival brings further misfortune for Kolia and his family.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
With garlands galore - including a Golden Globe, a Best Screenplay at Cannes, Best Film at Asia Pacific Screen Awards, Oscar nomination (Best Foreign Language) and four major nominations at the European Film Awards - Leviathan sets up high expectations, with its warts and all glimpse into Putin's Russia, a dictatorship in all but name but one without an ideology - except to steal money.
Our Everyman Russian is the embattled Kolia (Aleksey Serebrayakov), bullied by the crooked smalltown Mayor Vadim (Roman Madyanov). That conflict, a metaphor for all of Russia, is at the heart of the film, giving filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev plenty of ammunition to report on the country's wretched and downtrodden Everymen, still oppressed and mistreated by authority, regime after regome. Public office of State is more predator than protector in this society.
Zvyagintsev's screenplay (co-written with Oleg Negin) doesn't pretend to be a hero's journey like so many commercial films we see here; it intends to be as miserable as possible, while observing human nature as a kind of malady, a condition that can hardly be managed, let alone cured. But in the process, the film gives us searing characterisations and some stunning scenic drama, lovingly shot as if nature were a counterpoint to human nature.
Plenty of metaphors, needless to say, including the ancient skeleton of a leviathan whale on the empty beach, the skeletal remains of what was once great and mighty at the same time. The ironic juxtaposing of Russian Orthodox priests and their piety with the inevitable Russian corruption is a tad overdone, and some of the story telling structure is too clever for its own good, but the film maintains interest, if at a slight stretch at 140 minutes.
Serebrayakov is outstanding as the vodka swilling Kolia, as is Madyanov as the vodka swilling pig of a mayor, while Elena Lyadova makes a heartbreaking Lilya, Kolia's somewhat younger second wife, whose relationship with Kolia's young son Romka, an excellent Sergey Pokhodaev, adds one of the extra layers to the screenplay. There are others, all built around Kolia and Lilya (poor Lilya), and Kolia's lawyer friend Dmitriy (Vladimir Vdovichenkov).
Smaller supports are all marvelous, creating multi-dimensional characters who add to the sense of time and place and texture ... and drama.
The spare score by Philip Glass is perfectly suited, both in emotional and symbolic terms, as his signature style of variations on a theme echoes Russia's history.
The irony is that this slap in the face for Russia today was the official Oscar entry, a decision made by the Russian Academy of Cinema Arts & Sciences.
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CAST: Aleksey Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova, Roman Madyanov, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Anna Ukolova, Sergey Pkhodaev, Aleksey Rozin, Lesya Kudryashova
PRODUCER: Sergei Melkumov, Aleksander Rodnyanskiy
DIRECTOR: Andrey Zvyagintsev
SCRIPT: Andrey Zvyagintsev, Oleg Negin
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Mikhael Krichman
MUSIC: Philip Glass
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Andrey Ponkratov
RUNNING TIME: 140 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 26, 2015