30 Apr 2015

Leviathan - film review

From At The Movies, 7:50 pm on 30 April 2015

Leviathan - directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev.

The Russian film Leviathan is a real, original movie, though at times it feels like a big, hard-back novel.

It’s been hugely acclaimed, winning best script at Cannes, and being nominated for - and occasionally winning - every film award going. It’s certainly ambitious.

Leviathan, as its name suggests, touches on the meaning of power and politics, first introduced by economic philosopher Thomas Hobbes in the book of the same name. 

It’s also about religion – the original sea monster made his debut in the Biblical Book of Job.  

Along the way, the film finds room for the generation gap, sexual politics and a huge, actual whale skeleton, washed up on the beach of the Barendts Sea, right at the top of Russia, the site of a bleak little village where Kolya lives with his second wife Lilya and his son Roma.  

Kolya’s house has been claimed by the corrupt mayor of the village, and he’s called in his friend Dmitri to help fight it.

Dmitri is a big-city lawyer from Moscow, and he’s got a plan. Although the legal appeal is likely to lose – kicked out by a judge with barely a second glance – Dmitri isn’t fazed. He has friends in high places – and a lot of hard evidence of the crooked dealings the mayor has been up to. The mayor appears to capitulate in the face of all this evidence, but he’s just stalling, and everyone knows it.

Confusing the issue is the fact that Kolya’s best friend Dmitri isn’t just in town to provide legal advice. He’s got his eye on Kolya’s dissatisfied wife Lilya.

With a film as gargantuan as Leviathan – in Russian no less – it’s impossible to cover all the shifts and turns. 

In fact, it’s not always clear what position the film is taking. Is it crusading against Putin’s Russia, or is it shrugging its shoulders at the inevitability of Fate?

At the end, like poor old Job, the good characters take most of the divine hits, while the ratbags seem unscathed. 

It’s not as simple as that, of course - nothing in Russia is.  But you come out of the film with a chilly feeling – and not just because all the action takes place at zero temperature.

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