Film Leviathan Movie Review By Luke Buckmaster | March 31, 2015 | ★★★★★ ★★★★★ The release of Russian writer/director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s grand and savage social satire Leviathan, which wallows in the mire of Soviet bureaucracy and tells a grubby story about one man’s desperate attempt to battle corruption and hold onto his home in a small seaside town, has solicited squawks of confusion and disbelief from the pundits. How could Kremlin officials, with their isolationist policies, astrakhan hats and vodka-infused grimaces ever have let this film (which was Oscar-nominated for Best Foreign Picture) see the light of day? Stranger still that it was partly financed by the Russian government, leading some to question whether anyone has checked the last-known whereabouts of the person who signed off on it. Moscow isn’t exactly opening the gates to a new era of openness and self-reflection; new rules in fact were introduced in January prohibiting licenses for films “defiling the national culture, posing a threat to national unity and undermining the foundations of the constitutional order”. It seems unlikely that whoever processed Leviathan’s funding application wouldn’t have grasped its interminable bleakness. The story of Kolia (Aleksey Serebrayakov) fighting to protect his waterside land from being taken by dodgy local mayor Vadim (Roman Madyanov) while grappling with a series of family misfortunes is almost nihilistic in its handling of the David versus Goliath narrative: The Castle without the patina of hope for humankind. Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky slammed the film for being “anti-Russian” while at the same time arguing its themes are universal and that it could have been set in the United States, France or Italy. On the latter he is quite right, because while Leviathan feels like a stinging response to Putin-era politics there is nothing in the story’s essential elements that wouldn’t translate to an equally scathing examination of capitalist values. Co-written by Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin, the story doesn’t follow Kolia’s plight per se: it is more about capturing its ramifications. The film switches focus between subjects and unfurls through broad architecture rather than personal narrative, as if the writers distrusted any one character from steering it. This gives Leviathan a cunningly wide perspective and an almost exposé-like quality to its patchwork of vignettes, stitched together to illuminate different shades of a central injustice. Cinematographer Mikhail Krichman shoots with a crisp, wide lens that combines embittered looking characters with photogenic backdrops of mountains and water. Like Jane Campion’s Top of the Lake there is a beautiful coldness to it which is enhanced by the coastal setting. The water infuses the human dramas with a vaguely existential aura, as if the filmmakers are acknowledging all their troubles will one day be washed away. In one scene Kolia buys two bottles of vodka and necks one down outside the shop. He sees the local priest and asks “Where’s your merciful god almighty?” The priest responds “Mine is with me. As for yours, I wouldn’t know”. Leviathan’s emotional essence exists in that moment. Even with God on your side, the writers seem to be saying, you’re on your own. It’s a pronouncement that, like the film, is both brutal and spiritual. Facebook Twitter Pinterest LinkedIn Email About the Author: Luke Buckmaster Luke Buckmaster is film critic and writer for Daily Review, and contributes commentary to a range of Australian publications.