DVD REVIEW: LEVIATHAN / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: ANDREY ZVYAGINTSEV / SCREENPLAY: OLEG NEGIN, ANDREY ZVYAGINTSEV / STARRING: ALEKSEY SEREBRYAKOV, ELENA LYADOVA, VLADIMIR VDOVICHENKOV / RELEASE DATE: MARCH 9TH
Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan has caused quite the controversy recently; despite international acclaim including an Oscar nomination and a Golden Globes win, it’s not gone down well in its native Russia, with the cinema release subject to cuts and the Minister of Culture criticising its portrayal of the country. Watching the film now available on DVD, it’s not difficult to work out why.
A modern retelling of the biblical Job story, Leviathan follows Kolya (Serebryakov), a heavy-drinking, ill-tempered everyman whose property is being repossessed by the government. Despite strong evidence that the repossession is illegal, he’s up against a corrupt mayor who’ll use every trick in the book to get one over on him, and his case begins to crumble when his lawyer begins an affair with Kolya’s wife. Oh, and his son’s a bit of a delinquent.
Yes, if you’re tired of cinema that puts a smile on your face, you’ll enjoy Leviathan’s harrowingly downbeat realism. You’ll repeatedly think ‘well, at least it can’t get any worse for him now’ only to be proven magnificently wrong.
But in this relentless despair lies the power of Leviathan; it’s a strongly anti-government film, in which the cops and the mayor are equally self-serving, and there’s little the poor, oppressed citizen can do when faced with uncaring, inaccessible bureaucracy. The lawyer has a letter of complaint flat-out refused by the police, can’t leave a message for the off-sick prosecutor because his secretary doesn’t have authority to take it, and is turned down from a courthouse because ‘no-one’s in’. And that’s before they start playing the really dirty tricks…
Despite his anger management issues (or perhaps because of them – it makes him more human and relatable than his antagonists), it’s hard not to root for Kolya in his struggle against the leviathan that is the system, and it’s remarkable that this film got made at all in Putin’s Russia, a country that, it’s fair to say, isn’t renowned for its embracing of liberal media. Indeed, the corrupt mayor has a portrait of their President in his office, and its central placing on the wall can’t be an accident on the part of the filmmakers.
Leviathan may not sound like an easy watch, but once you get into it, it’s compelling, powerful viewing; a deep character study as well as an important exposé of corruption in the Russian establishment. Just make sure you have some cat videos on standby to cheer you up afterwards.
Extras: Trailer / BTS / Director Interview / Deleted Scenes