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Film review: LEVIATHAN, from ‘Built For Speed’

Slow moving, superbly shot, awash with psychological, religious and political symbolism, misery guts Russian drama Leviathan inevitably evokes comparisons with classic Russian art-house cinema such as the works of Andre Tarkovsky.  Consequently, it is the sort of film over which many critics will gush while some audience members will scratch their heads and wonder what the fuss was about.

Leviathan draws on the biblical stories of Job and Naboth’s Vineyard as it depicts the luckless Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov), a mechanic in a decaying fishing village who faces losing his home to the rich heartless and corrupt mayor Vadim (Roman Madyanov)… and that’s just the start of Kolya’s troubles. 

Leviathan is predominantly a commentary on the state of modern Russia. The film explores issues of political corruption, religious hypocrisy and above all betrayal of the average Russian citizen. Throughout the film the iconic faces of Russia’s leaders stare at us in various portraits including a comically intimidating picture of Vladimir Putin that peers at visitors in the mayor’s office.  The film also operates on a more personal level as it addresses issues of infidelity and self-destructiveness.

Performances are uniformly impressive with Roman Madyanov remarkable as the bulky, gleefully immoral Mayor who behaves like a gangster and seeks moral justification for his destructive actions from a re-energised Orthodox Church.

The film features stunning cinematography with indelible shots of the bleak coastal landscape and the dilapidated houses that occupy it.   The sight of a massive whale skeleton decaying on the shoreline acts as a striking central motif for the apparently parlous state of contemporary Russia. This is a bleak film but it’s not entirely miserable as this sad story is punctuated with moments of humour.

Despite its sharp social commentary, striking cinematography and impeccable cinematic technique, this film will not satisfy all audiences. At 140 minutes it’s noticeably drawn out.  Also, some characters and the story threads they occupy are not quite as well developed as they could have been.  In addition, Kolya, despite a grim visage that recalls a younger Max Von Sydow, isn’t a particularly interesting character and is certainly not a sympathetic one as he spends most of the film guzzling Vodka and threatening people. 

Despite these imperfections Leviathan’s evocative imagery, potent and pervasive sadness and confronting  commentary about present day Russia will stay with viewers for a long time.

Nick’s rating: ****.

Genre: Drama.

Classification: M.

Director(s): Andrey Zvyagintsev.

Release date: 26th Mar 2015

Running time: 140 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show 

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