In a Russian coastal town, Kolya is forced to fight the corrupt mayor when he is told that his house will be demolished. He recruits a lawyer friend to help, but the man’s arrival brings further misfortune for Kolya and his family.
One of the highest rated films to come out of Cannes this year, winning the Best Screenplay award, ‘Leviathan’ is a powerful tale of corruption in a small coastal village in Russia. Perhaps remarkably, given the current political climate in Russia, ‘Leviathan’ has received support from the Russian Film Board, and has been put forward as Russia’s selection for the Oscars next year. It tells the story of an ordinary man struggling to keep his land from the corrupt local mayor, and does so whilst elegantly fluctuating between genres. ‘Leviathan’ is a family drama, a story of greed and betrayal, and a deeply engrossing thriller, and its testament to the skill of director Andrey Zvyagintsev that each aspect is told with such conviction.
At its heart though, this is a film about the little man fighting back against the corrupt machine that is trying to take away everything he’s worked for to satisfy the greed of the local mayor. That all of this is done through legal channels emphasises the challenges our protagonist, Kolya (Aleksei Serebryakov) faces. Serebryakov is excellent in the lead role, stoic and determined in the early stages, and his face throughout carries the emotions of a man fighting a fight that he can’t possibly win. The first 45 minutes of the film don’t skirt around the seriousness of the issue, but there’s a light, comedic touch at play as we spend time with Kolya and his family, and his friend Dima (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) who has came from Moscow to help him fight his case. It’s after this point when the situation starts to deepen and the characters face up to the reality of what is happening that the screenplay delves off into darker and darker channels, with certain character decisions exacerbating the pace at which this happens.
Set beside the Barents Sea, the cinematography is beautiful and sparse, and this is never more profound than in the shots that Zvyagintsev uses to start and finish the film. The opening scenes start by depicting various shots of the village and the local scenery set to music, with the closing scenes mirroring the opening. There’s no reference to the drastic changes to the lives in between, and I think Zvyagintsev is trying to emphasise that life goes on, that no matter how hard the individual tries to fight, the system will win and people will move in. It’s a depressing thought, but that is the reality that ‘Leviathan’ is depicting.
‘Leviathan’ is an excellent film from a director with a remarkable handle on his material. It’s funny, tragic and a stunningly insightful view into the institutional corruption inherent in Russia in the present day. Highly recommended.
Directed By: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Starring: Aleksei Serebryakov, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Roman Madyanov, Elena Lyadova and Sergey Pokhodaev