Film Trance new boy Julian Uzunov continues his examination of this year’s Best Foreign Language Film category at the Oscars by reviewing Andrey Zvyaginstev’s Leviathan.
After taking a Golden Globe and getting nominations at every other big film awards, it comes as no surprise that Leviathan finally finds itself at the Oscars. This dark drama earns director Andrey Zvyagintsev, an already established Russian director, his first Oscar nomination.
The film is a modern adaptation of the Biblical story of Job. The story follows the events surrounding the life of Kolia (Alexei Serebriakov), a man with a short temper and little education. He lives in a small town in northern Russia with his wife, Lilya (Elena Lyadova) and teenage son, Roma (Sergey Pokhodaev), from Kolia’s first marriage. With his wife becoming more and more distant from him, and a rebellious son refusing to accept his new mother, things become even worse when the corrupt local mayor, Vadim (Roman Madyanov) decides to use his powers to get Kolia’s property and build a communication centre. Kolia decides to call an old friend from the army, now a big lawyer in Moscow, Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), to help him fight this injustice. However, things turn out not to be that simple, as the crooked mayor refuses to give in to their demands, and Kolia’s dysfunctional family takes a turn for the worst when Dmitri moves into their home. With drama starting to engulf his family, life starts to a resemble a test for Kolia: just how much can be taken away from one person before he snaps?
The film has already sparked a lot of controversy in Russia with its dark subject and representation of life in the country. Having lived in Russia myself, I dare to argue that things are not actually that far away from the truth. The film shows how bad the social situation in Russia is. Every single aspect of society: law, family, government, and religion have completely crumbled, and are being used as a façade for the gains of the more powerful. With Vadim being the embodiment of all this, we see how, with the power invested in him, he has turned into some sort of a God, with the ability to take away anything from those lesser than him. This image is being upheld with the image of the church – the local high priest giving his blessing to Vadim’s deeds. Despite the fact that the film is entirely based on the situation in Russia, I think it stands as a warning for other democratic countries, of what could happen if politicians become too drunk with power.
All of the actors give an eerie performance, completely fusing with the atmosphere. The performances are so fleshed out that it completely bridges the gap with reality. The pain, sadness, and anger are so compelling that I feel like the actors have been through a similar situation, otherwise it would be impossible to give such compelling performances. However, Roman Madyanov’s portrayal of Vadim falls a little short. He does give a great love-to-hate performance, but it is more fitting of a James Bond flick than a drama set in Russia. He is a bit too over the top and sometimes even comical, which takes away from the realism of the picture. The darkened shots and lack of music contribute to the gloomy environment of the film. The occasional subtext or suggestive shot give you just enough food for thought time, without it becoming too preachy or artsy.
Leviathan addresses social issues which are always relevant, makes us take a look at our society, and think deeply about what we are and what can we may become. It is one of the best movies of 2014, and I think the undisputed favourite for the award so far.