Writer: Andrey Zvyangintsev, Oleg Negin
Cast: Aleksey Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Roman Madyanov, Sergey Pokhodaev
Running time: 140mins
The lowdown: Best Film at the 2014 London Film Festival. Best Screenplay at the 2014 Cannes Film Festival. Best International Film the Munich Film Festival. And almost guaranteed a Best Foreign Film nomination at the 2015 Oscars. Leviathan crashes onto screens riding a wave of critical and festival acclaim. All of it thoroughly deserved, Andrey Zvyangintsev’s tale of one man being crushed by the forces of the Russian state being a film of remarkable power and humanity.
The full verdict: Early on in Leviathan a municipal government judge reads aloud court verdicts on local mechanic Kolya’s (Serebryakov) appeal to stop his seafront home from being snatched by the town’s venal Mayor (Madyanov).
The female judge barrels through the dismissive verdicts with such brutal rapidity she literally embodies the institutions that are steamrolling over Kolya’s right to keep his home which houses his son Roma (Pokhodaev) and attractive second wife Lilya (Lyadova).
But, Kolya has an ace up his sleeve: former army buddy now turned Moscow hotshot lawyer Dmitri (Vdovitchenkov). Cosmopolitan and unflustered by the bullyboy tactics of the provincial northern Russian council, he soon has dirt on the Mayor.
The way in which power and fortune ebb and flow in Leviathan proves Zvyanginstev a filmmaker of true storytelling daring and invention. Novelistic in its scope and ambition, this is a film of difficult characters both good and bad.
A first rate cast breathe genuine life into these characters, Serebryakov astonishing as a man raging against the indignities being heaped against him (the Book of Job is a key script inspiration). Lyadova is equally impressive as Kolya’s wife, arguably marrying beneath herself and quietly persevering with a hotheaded husband and surly son.
In its direct attacks on corrupt government officials and their lackey law enforcers, plus unfiltered disdain for the Mafia-like denizens of the Orthodox Christian Church, the film must rank as one of the ballsiest to have emerged under Putin’s rule.
And that enigmatic title (shared with a 1989 Peter Weller sci-fi flick). Does it refer to Kolya, a salt and grit descendent of the men who built Russia? Or the traditional fishing town being sold out to faceless corporations for a quick buck? Or the State itself, with its monstrous apparatus of power?
Reportedly more accessible than Zvyangnitsev’s previous films, Leviathan packs a huge amount of incident into its 140 minute run time, including wry, earthy humour and a thriller element played to its devastating logical conclusion.
Haunting and rewarding, it is both sobering and intoxicating cinema.