Directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev
Starring Aleksey Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova, Roman Madyanov
Undoubtedly beautiful, unrelentingly grim (despite bursts of dark humour), Leviathan is a good old dose of Russian fatalism that is as flawlessly constructed as it is hard to watch. It provides a sharp comment on the corruption at the heart of the modern Russian bureaucracy, and the church’s tacit condoning of it, as an everyman struggles against the system – and is torn down by inches. All set against a wilderness of epic grandeur and harsh beauty , rife with signs of decay, be they the ruins of the struggling fishing village, or skeletons from the deep.
When Kolia’s (Aleksey Serebryakov) livelihood is threatened by Vadim, the mayor of the small North Russian town (wonderfully played with a sense drunken self importance by Roman Madyanov) forcefully buying his property for a fraction of its actual worth, he calls in an old army mate, turned sharp new Moscow lawyer, to help him. What eventuates is a downward spiral as Kolia’s attempts to fight corruption forces the system to push back harder, threatening the life he has built himself with his new wife and teenage son.
Director Andrei Zvyagintsev brings us a work laden with meaning, with even the title carrying two references – both to the biblical beast, and the work of philosopher Thomas Hobbes discussing the necessity of government control. From the film’s first notes of composer Phillip Glass’s score set against a series of shots of the rugged coastline, Leviathan punches the audience in the face with its power and the beauty of its cinematography as it drags them along on its fatalistic path. Despite touches of hope and flashes of humour, there is little doubt as to where this film will eventually end in its powerful deriding of state corruption – stranger still when you consider part of the funding for this brave film was from the Russian government.
Ultimately, despite how juggernaut-like the system is, it is Kolia’s family itself that plants the seeds of their own destruction. Through their secrets, lies, lack of communication, ever-present alcoholism and own selfish desires, they shape their own downfall as they struggle against the impenetrable hide of the system. In a sense, despite all his self importance, despite his power, and despite all the blood on his hands, mayor Vadim is just a cog, and would be equally at home under the Tsars or the Communist part as he is today. It is the giant he is part of that protects him, and gives him power to wield. His interaction is merely the catalyst, and his interference escalates the tragedy for personal gain.
An uncompromising work. This is Job as told by Tolstoy, an intelligent but despairing satire full of political and social commentary beating with a Russian heart. The perfect cure for any excess of seasonal good cheer that may be lingering.
Leviathan plays at Somerville, UWA, from Monday, January 12, until Sunday January 18, and at ECU Joondalup Pines from Tuesday, January 20, until Sunday, January 25, as part of the Lotterywest Festival Film Season. For tickets and session times, go to perthfestival.com.au.