It’s a stark and compelling Russian language feature, that was in the running this past February for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film. I do believe I like the Polish Oscar-winner “Ida” just a bit more, but “Leviathan” was certainly solid competition. Tune in over the next month for reviews of fellow nominees “Wild Tales” from Argentina, and Mauritania’s “Timbuktu” (Estonia’s “Tangerines” will arrive later in the summer). It’s an epic-feeling story (141 minutes in length), with gorgeous cinematography (from the award-winning, Mikhail Krichman), that employs biblical inspirations. Okay…I’ve seen the Book of Job invoked on the big screen many, many times, in various languages. But director Andrey Zvyaginstev doesn’t botch the handling here, and the final product is rich in the storytelling, even when the trajectory is obvious.
Kolya (Alexei Serebriakov) lives in a modest seaside home, in a coastal Russian town. Politics and corruption come into play once the town’s crooked mayor (Roman Madyanov) attempts to acquire Kolya’s land for business purposes. A mechanic of limited means, Kolya fights to keep his property, which also houses his 2nd wife (Elena Lyadova), and young, troubled son (Sergey Pokhodaev) from his first marriage. Kolya employs his old army buddy, Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov)–who is now a lawyer–to assist him with his case. But soon violence, betrayal, death, and misperception, all come into play. And in rapid fashion, Kolya is fighting not only for his land–but for his life, as well as that of his family.
Hey, “Leviathan” wears its bible well, so I’m not deducting points for its over-familiarity. The film has a real grandeur to it, that is largely absent in popular, North American filmmaking. The acting is uniformly excellent, and the screenplay of Alexander Rodnyansky is surprisingly deft and rich. Stateside audiences not accustomed to this type of cinema, will likely have a difficult journey with its multiple plot thread rendering, and its seeming lack of true resolution. But serious lovers of international movies will rejoice in its complicated structure, and intelligent ambiguity. “Leviathan” also provides biblical images of the most marvelous scope. Watch it on as big a screen as possible–and play it LOUD!