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artisanal film reviews | by maryann johanson

Leviathan movie review: you can’t fight city hall

Leviathan green light

The angry grandeur of its despair over how ordinary people get screwed by the powerful may be uniquely Russian, but it will hit home everywhere.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

I suspect Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan has more bite for homegrown audiences, where the film has been subjected to some disapproval and outright censorship from authorities who don’t like its harsh criticism of that nation’s endemic corruption. But the angry grandeur of its despair over how ordinary people get screwed by the powerful will hit home everywhere. (The story is, perhaps not at all ironically, inspired by real events in the U.S.) Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov) is underemployed, taken advantage of by his so-called friends, and about to lose his home and his small auto-repair business because the mayor (Roman Madyanov) of his little fishing village has decided he wants Kolya’s prime seaside acreage for his own purposes. The plan hatched by Kolya’s army-buddy lawyer pal (Vladimir Vdovichenkov: 360) to use some legit dirt on the mayor, Vadim, to get him to back down might even have worked. But Kolya and Vadim are locked in a battle of wills: power cannot give in to a nobody, but the nobody has had enough. More betrayals pile onto Kolya; some see a retelling of the story of Job in this, but it’s a not unfamiliar story of a man who simply should never have trusted anyone around him, not women, not friends, not even the local priest, who is powerfully invested supporting the mayor’s ongoing corruption. An Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, this is everything you should expect from a Russian film: anguish, melancholy, bitter irony, lots of booze, and beautiful visual metaphors. (The decrepit wrecks of once mighty ships littering the beach are an even better metaphor for the decay of a culture than the skeleton of the dead whale on the beach is, though the latter is more Jobian.) You may need a drink yourself by the end.


See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Leviathan for its representation of girls and women.


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Leviathan (2014)
US/Can release: Dec 25 2014
UK/Ire release: Nov 07 2014

MPAA: rated R for language and some sexuality/graphic nudity
BBFC: rated 15 (strong language, moderate sex)

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

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  • Constable

    Thank you MaryAnn for reviewing these movies, I’d have never known about them otherwise. Now I can watch something to drown out the “controversy” of 50 Shades of Gray.

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