Leviathan: The Beast Within Us

The Chinese have a saying – while we’re at foreign language films – ‘A tyrannical government is more ferocious than the tiger’. That Leviathan is selected as the official entry from Russia to the Oscar race baffles me. But I can also see those in power there just may not be bothered by small town corruptions which the film depicts, for they must be more focused on the larger picture that carries greater magnitude, the scenery in Crimea.

Leviathan, that monstrous beast the priest in the film quotes to the main character Kolya is from the book of Job in the Bible. While the context in the Biblical passage is about the Creator’s might over the huge creature, it is a metaphor with layered meaning in writer/director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s film: A citizen against a powerful mayor vying for his home property, and the monstrous beast inside the characters with which they all have to wrestle.

Leviathan Movie Poster

Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov) is an apt parallel of a modern day Job in the sense of the misfortunes he encounters. The little guy is no match for a greedy and powerful mayor and a corrupt system when it comes to holding on to what he legally owns, his home on a piece of  land by the shoreline in the coastal town of Pribrezhny. Even his lawyer friend Dimitry (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), who has come all the way from Moscow to advocate for him, falls victim to the small town mayor Vadim (Roman Madyanov).

The seemingly idyllic setting of Kolya’s coastal home is apparently an illusion. The cinematography is stunning and probing at the same time, for apart from the scenic serenity, there are also broken and derelict boats discarded on the shore, as well as carcasses of sea creatures, in particular, a whale-like skeleton that we the audience would gasp upon seeing but that the local residents don’t even take a second look. Their lives are intertwined with the Leviathan, however skeletal its remains.

But Kolya is not Job. He is hotheaded and impulsive. Apart from fighting the external beast of the mayoral hostile take-over of his home property, Kolya has to keep his wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova) at bay from his lawyer friend Dimitry, as well as bring up teenaged son Roman (Sergey Pokhodaev) on a path he himself is at a loss in finding. The worst is yet to come though. We empathize with Kolya, a man so trapped, he is unable to find a way out other than drowning his misery in alcohol. The church is not helping either, why, its most powerful congregation member is the mayor himself.

Too far and remote a film to identify? The setting maybe, but not the story. Leviathan resonates with the human condition it depicts, the Leviathans within us that we have to wrestle wherever we may be. Not just Kolya, but every character is crying for a redemptive way out of his or her predicament, unless blind as the mayor who basks in his own schemes. With the nuanced performance of the cast, we have the pleasure to appreciate a production superbly crafted, and that’s what gratifies when watching a film well made, despite the subject matter.

Leviathan has won 2014 Cannes Film Festival’s Best Screenplay Award, and last month the Golden Globe’s Best Foreign Language Film. This Sunday at the Oscars, Leviathan has a good chance of grabbing the coveted prize in its category, Best Foreign Language Film of the Year.

My pick? Still rooting for Ida, for its positive choice at the end.

~ ~ ~ 1/2 Ripples

***

My Reviews of 2015 Oscar Nominated Films:

Ida

Boyhood

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Whiplash

Gone Girl 

Interstellar and Ida

Published by

Arti

If she’s not birding by the Pond, Arti’s likely watching a movie, reading, or writing a review. Bylines in Asian American Press, Vague Visages, Curator Magazine.

12 thoughts on “Leviathan: The Beast Within Us”

  1. This is one I’ll probably never see unless it shows up here as a film festival feature but it sounds fascinating. In a way it reminds me a bit of the Kafka character (Michael?) K. A guy just can’t get a break.

    I always admire your film reviews because you not only point out the specifics one might expect to find but also why the film really matters. Your “relating to it” paragraph really sets the whole thing in focus, making it immediately more accessible.

    Like

    1. Jeanie,

      Thanks, just the usual search for the ‘meaning’ behind the art. And I’m afraid you’re right about this film probably would never screen in a smaller city. Hope you can find it on Netflix some day.

      Like

    1. Stefanie,

      Fingers crossed. Yes, the big night tomorrow, an annual TV event for me. No red carpet fuss. But I’ve learned to move on despite disappointment. After all, I feel it’s more like a popularity campaign, another reality show. 😉

      Like

  2. No doubt, Ida is a wonderful film – one really shouldn’t have to choose between the two of them, still, if I had to; my vote would go to Leviathan – because of the sheer beauty of the visual setting for the story.

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    1. I like them both. But just imagined myself as an Academy voter faced with picking one out of the five nominees in the Best Foreign Language Film category. Mind you, this is a record year for the Academy in the number of countries represented: 83. Choosing one winner out of 83 entries must be a bittersweet task.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. I can’t believe and I’m so thrilled that this one is showing here. As I mentioned, a friend and I are going to see it. There are two situations I know about that are almost exact parallels — well, whether the mob is involved is an open question here, but there certainly is no lack of Big Boys with Big Bucks sticking it to some locals. So, that connection makes it interesting.

    And the filming — the scenery and use of light and shadow to create a mood — seems fabulous. Once we’ve seen it, I’ll pop back and let you know what we thought.

    Like

    1. Linda,

      Yes, I’m sure there are scenarios we can relate to, but the setting is what we won’t see in our neck of the woods. I’m sure you’ll find the film intriguing. Although it didn’t win the Oscar last night, it is still a must-see on my list. As for the Oscar winner, representing Poland, a gem of a film, IDA, you must see that one too. That was my pick for the Oscar win and glad to see it get the nod.

      Like

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