Blu-ray l DVD
Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev
Starring: Aleksey Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Roman Madyanov, Sergey Pokhodaev
Theatrical Release: December 31, 2014
Blu-Ray Release: May 19, 2015
The unforgiving yet majestic landscapes of Russia’s Kola Peninsula, with the Barents Sea’s incessant raging waters and skeletal remnants of a whale washed up on the stony shore, is an ideal location for a film to take place that is loosely based on the Old Testament story from the Book of Job. Ideal because it seems like a hopeless place forgotten by God and unaltered by time; one that eternally damns its inhabitants until they finally surrender due to them being subjected to incredibly bleak circumstances.
In only his fourth feature film, director Andrey Zvyagintsev (who directed 2012’s superb film, Elena) maintains such a stark, dense environment in Leviathan, never once slackening his grip on a particular family and their friends as they attempt to combat the Russian government and their implacably corrupt politics. The results are profound and finally devastating as his narrative is sprawling, covering instances of despair, hope, tragedy, and comedy. The topics are heavy and easily appeal to critics and awards voters alike. The film received a limited release last year so it could secure a nomination for Best Foreign film at last year’s Academy Awards. It has made a wider release in 2015, making it easily one of the best films out this year.
Isolated from the majority of the populace, a home, along with an auto-repair shop, is situated in a rural setting. Both belong to Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov), the film’s Job, a rugged, short-tempered middle-aged man with an insatiable urge to chug vodka from the bottle with or without his friends. He is capable of being both a harsh and caring father to his young son, Roma (Sergey Pokhodaev), and maybe too much of a man towards his second wife, Lilya (Elena Lyadova).
Their little lives are all upended one night when the mayor (Roman Madyanov), drunk, plump, and truly corrupt, comes knocking on Kolya’s door informing him that he will take over ownership with plans of destroying it. This prompts Kolya to call on his old friend, Dmitriy (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), a successful lawyer residing in Moscow. Dmitriy begins to dig right into the case, revealing the mayor’s corruption and also revealing to Kolya his own true character.
Excerpts from Philip Glass’s opera Akhnaten bookend the film, immediately making an impact on Leviathan’s viewers thanks to Glass’s boisterous pangs of dread. The heightened sense of seriousness is undeniable and firmly established before we even see a character (the film dwells a bit on the unforgiving landscapes). Zvyagintsev is able to conjure a mood and adhere to it throughout the film’s multi-layered plot and two-and-a-half hour run time.
Throughout the film’s duration he effortlessly evokes gargantuan minds and renowned pieces of world literature such as the great Russian novelists (Tolstoy and Turgenev) and their sprawling narrative scope, Thomas Hobbes’ eponymous philosophical book and, of course, the Book of Job. There is not a term to adequately label Zvyagintsev’s far-reaching ambitions. As if evoking such giants was not enough he decides to dissect and thoroughly inspect religion, domestic discontent, immoral politicians and an unjust legal system far beyond repair. Save for a few muddled steps taken during a major narrative turn, Leviathan not only affords us an intimate glimpse into the lives of its characters and the political system dictating all of them, but also a startling glimpse into humanity as a whole.
****1/2 out of *****