Synopsis: The latest drama from Andrey Zvyagintsev, the acclaimed director of The Return (Venice Film Festival Golden Lion winner and Golden Globe nominee). Kolya (Alexei Serebriakov) lives in a small fishing town near the stunning Barents Sea in Northern Russia. He owns an auto-repair shop that stands right next to the house where he lives with his young wife Lilya (Elena Liadova) and his son Roma (Serguei Pokhodaev) from a previous marriage. The town’s corrupt mayor Vadim Shelevyat (Roman Madianov) is determined to take away his business, his house, as well as his land. First the Mayor tries buying off Kolya, but Kolya unflinchingly fights as hard as he can so as not to lose everything he owns including the beauty that has surrounded him from the day he was born. Facing resistance, the mayor starts being more aggressive…
Release Date: December 25, 2014 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Genre(s): Drama, Foreign
Russians have the reputation of being big drinkers, and if Leviathan is even a semi-accurate portrayal of real life in the country, it’s easy to see why.
Leviathan focuses on an underemployed man named Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov from Cargo 200) who lives in a small town in Russia with his wife, Lilya (Elena Lyadova from Elena and Dreaming of Space), and his son from a previous marriage, Roma (Six Degrees of Celebration‘s Sergey Pokhodaev). The crooked mayor of the town, Vadim Shelevyat (Roman Madyanov from 12), wants Kolya’s land for himself and, claiming eminent domain, offers a paltry sum for it. Kolya refuses to sign over his property, instead enlisting the help of his old friend, Dmitriy (Vladimir Vdovichenkov from 360), now a big-shot Moscow lawyer, to help him fight the corrupt politician. Vadim has both his criminal cronies and the town’s police force in his pocket, so the battle will be hard fought. When Kolya begins to suspect that he can’t trust his best friend or his wife anymore, his struggle gets even harder.
Leviathan was directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev (The Return) from a script written by him and his writing partner Oleg Negin (who also teamed up with Zvyagintsev on The Banishment and Elena). To say Leviathan is a depressing movie is an understatement; everything about it is a total bummer. From the perfectly subdued acting of the cast to the desolation of the production design, the film conveys the intrinsic sadness and overall desperation of the characters. It’s even got a real downer of a score by Philip Glass (Visitors). That’s not saying it’s a bad movie – it’s actually very well made, and an engaging and interesting watch. Just be prepared to want a stiff drink afterwards.
A big part of what makes Leviathan an effective film is what is not in it. There are long stretches of silence, scenes in which the characters just sit or stand around and don’t say anything, that really illustrate the monotony of their existence. The film does contain spots of sex and violence, but it is all implied rather than shown; the violence is heard or felt instead of being realized, and the film picks up the sex either just before or just after the actual act itself. Zvyagintsev is a master at exploiting the subtleties of filmmaking, and this talent results in quite a bit of ambiguity in his movies. At one point, Kolya asks a priest for advice and, after hearing what the holy man has to say, asks him “why the f-ing riddles?” The same could be asked of Zvyaginsev about Leviathan. Is it a purposely loose retelling of the book of Job, a dramatized account of an actual series of events, or an entirely fictional storyline? It’s probably a bit of all three, and part of the magic is how unclear Zvyaginsev makes his cinematic answers.
Leviathan is not for everyone. First, and most obviously, it’s a Russian film, so it’s completely subtitled. Also, like many foreign films, it’s deliberately slow and plodding. Patience is rewarded, as the film has a definite destination that does not disappoint, but the getting there may be tedious for those with shorter attention spans (the film clocks in at about two and a half hours). And, in the end, it inspires a strange combination of satisfaction mixed with anger and sadness. It’s visually stunning, expertly acted, and leaves the audience thinking hard about what they just saw. If that sounds like a good time, Leviathan is your thing.
For such a cold and depressing movie, Leviathan looks gorgeous. Cinematographer Mikhail Krichman (who has worked with Zvyagintsev on other films like The Return, Elena, and The Banishment) takes advantage of the beauty of the vast Northern Russian countryside, using widescreen panoramic shots everywhere he can to show the stunning isolation of the area. The film is shot in striking colors, with lots of blues and reds, but still feels frigid and frozen – the audience shivers just looking at the images onscreen. While shooting the actors, Krichman uses long takes that let the action unfold organically, giving the film (and the actors’ performances) a very raw and live feel. With the exception of a handful of slow and motivated zooms, the extended shots are mostly static and unmoving, giving the viewer the impression that they are witnessing the events as they happen in real time. When the film does cut, it will frequently flip to another shot that completely breaks the 180 degree rule of filmmaking, thus symbolizing the changing levels of honesty and loyalty amongst the characters in the film. The cinematography in Leviathan is all part of the storytelling, and it’s done very well.
Cast and Crew
- Director(s): Andrey Zvyagintsev
- Screenwriter(s): Oleg NeginAndrey Zvyagintsev
- Cast: Elena Lyadova (Lilya)Aleksey Serebryakov (Kolya)Vladimir Vdovichenkov (Vadim Shelevyat)
- Cinematographer: Mikhail Krichman
- Production Designer(s):
- Costume Designer:
- Casting Director(s):
- Music Score: Philip Glass
- Music Performed By:
- Country Of Origin: USA