Film Reviews

Leviathan Andrey Zvyagintsev

Rating - 8/10

The monumentally lumbering beast of Job 41 in Andrey Zvyagintsev's Leviathan [Левиафан] is the oppressive, shadowy current of Putinist rule.  Commencing with an orchestration of Philip Glass' stunning, undulating Akhnaten Act I Prelude that underscores a series of ominous shots of Barents Sea waves crashing against the rocky coastline of Pribrezhny, a rural Russian fishing community, the mood evokes the opening sights and sounds of Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master (2012) with more perilous forewarning.

Zvyagintsev's tale of unjust inevitability concerns a meager family whose seaside residence is "legally" repossessed by the tyrannically uncouth mayor Vadim (Roman Madyanov), perpetually drunk on vodka and his own power.  (Fatally proving George Carlin's routine about the delusion of human rights, Vadim pays them a visit early in the film to berate the father, Kolya: "You never had rights, and you never will!").  The narrative favors the tone of a psychological drama in which Kolya (Aleksei Serebryakov) is left aimlessly drifting in the aftermath of the court ruling, failing to find meaning in his career as an auto mechanic, which parallels his own teenage son Roma (Sergey Pokhodaev)'s lack of discipline in school and beyond.  Their mutual desolation is further compounded by wife/Roma's stepmother Lilya (Elena Lyadova)'s infidelity with Kolya's friend and lawyer, Dima (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), visiting from Moscow.

While Leviathan may not exhibit the most consistently engaging and symmetrical story arc, it is redeemed in the devastatingly beautiful imagery captured in static long shots- shipwrecked debris, a beached whale skeleton, and rotting buildings from years of neglect- that visually reflect the parable for existence under Vladimir Putin's increasingly intimidating reign of terror.  Appropriately, the violence is always blunted by Mikhail Krichman's suggestive cinematography that equally regards the director's political sentiment and artistic vision.

Amidst the immovably interlocked corrupt power structures of the Russian Orthodox Church and State that unveil absolute moral hypocrisy and illusory nature of freedom, Zvyagintsev's fatalistic sense of humor successfully peeks through, peaking in the midsection's picnic excursion where local friends celebrate Stepanych (Sergey Bachurskiy)'s birthday with inebriated target practice on framed portraits of former Soviet leaders like Lenin, Brezhnev, and Gorbachev.  Of course Putin's absence among them was a necessary decision in order to secure this film's realization, but the moment is as blunt a shot as one could take at Russia's current despot without the literal act itself.  Also serving as a depressing reminder of the country's troubled history, the whole scene distills Leviathan's novelistic breadth, depicting a people's resentment of their own national identity that is continually stifled by those, like Vadim, hell-bent on using false Christian philosophy to crush even the first spirited vestiges of retaliation.