Thursday, January 15, 2015

Левиафан (Leviathan) (2014 film)

Director: Andrey Zvyaginstev
Writers:  Andrey Zvyaginstev, Oleg Negin
Cast:       Aleksey Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova, Roman Madyanov
Language: Russian

In a Russian coastal town, Kolya is forced to fight the corrupt mayor when he is told that his house will be demolished. He recruits his old army friend who is now a Moscow lawyer to help, but the man's arrival brings further misfortune for Kolya and his family.

It is a modern retelling of Bible's 'Book of Job' which is used as premise for films numerous times prior to this. It is staggering to think that Russia's 'Ministry of Culture' actually funded this film when it actually deals with things that should be uncomfortable for Putin if you go by the Western media's portrayal of him. I can bet that it will win the academy award for 'Best Foreign Film', for which it has been shortlisted,  just for the fact that it will aid Western propaganda. Even without that it would deserve all the recognition that comes its way since it may well be my favorite film from 2014.

The word 'Leviathan' also originates from the old testament where it refers to a sea monster. In modern culture, it was used by Thomas Hobbes as the title for his work on the social contract and the origins of creation of an ideal state. From there it has been used to portray the power of government in a negative way indicating its tyranny. In the film it is used to indicate the authority of both the government and the church over people and all of this comes as subtext. By doing so the director keeps it ambiguous what he is attacking and whether he is attacking at all. One can say he is using the attack on religion to mask the attack on government. 

The arrival of lawyer gives some hope for Kolya initially but soon enough it leads to problems in his marriage because of his wife, Lilya, starting an affair with the lawyer. The initial problems he has with the authority is compounded by the problems in his personal life. The mayor is shown having talks with the powerful priest from the church and the priest tells the mayor that they both occupy similar positions in the society. As more and more problems are introduced into Kolya's life he has an encounter with a lowly but a pious priest who explains to him the story of Job with the conclusion that Job went on to live till he was 140 years old. To that Kolya dryly asks 'Is that a fairy-tale?'. Being an atheist, I can totally understand his question since it is nothing but a story to make people reverent to the authority/God. How the fuck can anyone get comfort from that story, I don't know. Film ends with a scene from church where the cunning priest gives a sermon on why people should take comfort from God in stead of striving for freedom. If anyone missed the subtext so far, that should make it clear.

The reason for death that happens in the film is kept deliberately ambiguous which is a good thing. Even though it is a plot-driven film, it happens in an understated fashion and the same can be said of the acting. Elena Lyadova, who plays the role of tragic figure Lilya is hauntingly beautiful in it. Cinematography and the locales are stunning as is the soundtrack which is sparsely used with good effect to indicate its grandeur. I haven't seen any other films from the director but his debut film 'The Return' is in my watch-list. I will expedite that on the strength of Leviathan. Leviathan won the 'Golden Peacock' at the International Film Festival of India last year.

Rating: 5/5