“Can you draw out Leviathan with a fishhook or press down his tongue with a cord?”
Set in the heart of a Russian coastal town, Leviathan is a story of a mans fight with the mayor to keep his house from being demolished. This David and Goliath tale is told against the parable of the Book of Job with the lead character encountering various sorts of misfortunes as a depiction of the plagues.
This is the first Andrey Zvyaginstev film I have seen and some of the only work from Russia I have seen that has caught my eye since Andrei Tarkovsky. The comparisons between these two directors are there with both dealing with social-political viewpoints of their state of modern-day Russia. Leviathan follows in the footsteps of other European art house films and that is exactly what you get when you watch this film. Every trait is there from the lack of score to the initial slow burn of a story that makes this film less appealing to the mainstream audience. If you follow the film you realise it is actually split in two parts with a momentous plot development half way through joining both parts of the film together. The first part concentrates on the business aspect of Leviathan as Nikolai tries to fight the town mayor to save his family home from being destroyed. You get Dimitry who plays Nikolai’s hot shot city lawyer and his character adds knowledge to a knowledge depraved town. This first half looks into Russia’s corruption and sets everyday normal characters to see how modern-day Russia deals with its citizens. You also begin to see the hierarchy system in Russia’s political corruption with Nikolai the average man being crushed against government control and God because as the films displays government and religion work hand in hand; with the Orthodox church at the top of this hierarchy. Religion plays a huge part in this film and because Leviathan becomes a retelling of the Book of Job which makes the whole premise feel more interesting. However, the religious allegories are displayed through church speeches that read verses relatable to the current situation of the film but I feel as if this aspect was downplayed a bit. There wasn’t enough of these philosophical moments and half the time you forget that this is a modern-day retelling.
After the plot twist (which I wont spoil) the second half of the movie arrives with the theme of family. Leviathan becomes a family drama and a very good one especially after the character development through the business aspect. You get to see the effect of a opressive society and its effect on the state of the Russian family as a whole. This is where Nikolai’s wife played by Elena Lyadova comes in and gives one of the best female performances of the year. The major emotion she conveys is guilt and her guilt is perfectly carried by the film’s story. Nikolai is David and you can see how the Goliath of a Mayor is slowly plaguing the world around Nikolai and how Russia treats its citizens. Leviathan is a very important film and show’s us an insider’s view of what underdeveloped parts of Russia are becoming. Many Russians have complained about the portrayal of their country in this film but I think Zvyaginstev is trying to show us that although cities like Moscow have found its way towards capitalism some smaller coastal towns like the one in the film are still trapped in the aftermath of communism. Leviathan is not only full of strong performances and strong storytelling but it also features some of the best cinematography of the year by Michail Krichman who manages to showcase this Russian city through minimalistic long shots of the coastal landscapes. My only flaws in the film would have been its brief moments of symbolism in a film with such a strong message and the lack of score whilst trying to retain the raw atmosphere of the film. Leviathan is one of the years best and most important film’s because it displays corruption amongst everyday people in modern-day Russia.
Final Verdict – 9.0