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Saturday, June 06, 2015

Leviathan (2014)

Once more I've seen a Russian film that makes me never want to go to Russia. I've commented before that Russian films, at least the ones that make to the U.S., are usually unrelentingly bleak, and paint the country as a haven for drunkenness and corruption. Leviathan is another one. Are there any happy Russians?

The title refers to a Biblical sea-monster that is discussed thoroughly in the book of Job, that put-upon fellow who endures so much from God. In this instance, Job has nothing on Kolya (Aleksei Serebryakov). A short-tempered auto mechanic, he is about to lose his house and land to the corrupt mayor (Roman Madynanov) in some kind of eminent domain situation, and is only receiving peanuts in exchange, not the true value of the land. He has enlisted his old army buddy from Moscow. Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) to represent him, and his friend has dug up damaging information on the mayor, intended to blackmail him into raising his price.

But things go awry when Kolya's wife, Lilya (Elena Lyadova) casts an eye on Dmitri. In fact, the Biblical analogy here could be Adam and Eve, as temptation destroys everyone's lives.

The setting of the film is a fictional town of Murmansk, which I looked up to see is way the fuck above Scandinavia. A graveyard of ships lies in the harbor, and the skeleton of a whale (another form of a leviathan) figures prominently in the advertising. For fun the men of the town drink and shoot; drinking vodka is pretty much a standard activity. "What will it be, Kolya?" the store clerk asks him. "Vodka, what else?" he answers.

I suppose rage against the system is the core theme here, but I couldn't quite wrap my mind around why I was supposed to be interested in this. If it was a Hollywood film, Kolya would end up victorious over the mayor, but it's a Russian film, so instead there is a sense of futility and despair that is only rarely leavened by humor. They say the Germans have no sense of humor, but I wonder about the Russsians, too. I think they do, but are just too pissed off to express it.

The film was directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev and nominated for an Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film, but for all its excellence in acting and photography, the film was probably just too downbeat for people who mostly live in sunny Southern California.

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