As a fan of foreign films I always pay close attention to the Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Language Film each year. Director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s (The Return) film Leviathan was Russia’s representative in that competitive category and earned one of five nominations. On top of that it won the Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film. This put the film onto my radar and when it came to me as a blu-ray to review, I was ecstatic. As is unfortunately often the case my expectations were not met.
In a small, rural coastal town in Russia lives a normal family led by an average guy named Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov). He lives with his second wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova) and teenage son, Roma (Sergey Pokhodaev) and works as a car mechanic from his own property. It is a modest life they are living. Things go along smoothly until the town’s corrupt mayor (Roman Madyanov) decides that he wants his house and all the property it lies on. Being a man of not many scruples, the mayo will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
To fight against this unfairness, Kolya calls upon his old Army friend and lawyer, Dmitriy (Vladimir Vdovichenkov). Dmitriy comes over from Moscow and begins working on the case. His strategy to fight back against the corrupt mayor is to gather as much dirt on him as he can. No matter what the two men come up with it seems like fate is not on Kolya’s side.
The director presents this rather simple, slice of life story in a rather grey and slow moving way. Plenty of attention is paid to the cinematography/way it looks and little to dialogue. Meaning that it is minimalist with long periods of silence. A look at the basic idea of life – the fight for survival.
Maybe all that desolation and vodka drinking to escape go to me. I felt suffocated by all the dreariness and the seemingly lack of options. Powerlessness. The idea of the wronged fighting against the corrupt or the working class against the government is a good one with your typical cheering for the underdog sentiments involved, but I could not even muster up any urging on for Kolya; I felt defeated before it all even really began. Could not get myself out of that rut and the film offered me nothing to cling to. Everything that could happen to this poor guy does as life slaps him in the face time and time again. There seems to be not even a scrap of light to cling to.
It is a well-constructed and acted film with a fantastic score by Philip Glass and yet it still left me wanting. Wanting some relief to the darkness, wanting the development of the characters and the story to happen quicker (it does go for a lengthy 2 hours and 20 minutes) and wanting the only two female characters to not be represented as nagging/overbearing or unfaithful. Just left me wanting…
-The Making of Leviathan
-An Evening at the Toronto International Film Festival with Andrey Zvyaginstsev
-Previews of Whiplash, Foxcatcher, Mr. Turner, Still Alice, Red Army, Wild Tales