April 13, 2016

Leviathan (2014)
Grade: 65/100

Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Stars: Aleksey Serebryakov, Elena Lydavoa, Vladimir Vdovichenkov

What it's about. Set in modern Russia at a seaport city. Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov) is a middle-aged car mechanic. His younger and attractive second wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova) works on an assembly line gutting fish. They live in an isolated and comfortable house near the beach with Kolya's malcontent tweener son Roma (Sergey Pokhodaev), who loves his alcoholic and trigger-tempered father but for some reason dislikes his nice, sober, and fetching stepmom.

The pudgy local mayor, Vadim (Roman Madyanov) is virtually a gangster who regards the area as his fiefdom. Vadim invokes eminent domain in an attempt to seize Kolya's house for a pittance. Because it is a movie, Kolya reels in a lawyer friend from Moscow, Dima (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), to represent him in his quixotic fight against city hall. Dima attempts to blackmail the corrupt Vadim to get him to at least properly compensate Kolya for taking his house.

A complication arises when Dima and Lilya (both are married) begin a covert affair (the actors later married in real life). They are caught by Kolya, who assaults Dima but forgives Lilya. The son, Roma, does not. Meanwhile, the mayor uses his muscle on Dima, who returns to Moscow in fear of his life. Lilya disappears, for she has committed suicide in the sea. Her body washes up, and evidence is trumped up against Kolya, who is prosecuted for murder. Roma is adopted by family friends. The beach house is demolished, and in its place rises a posh church for Bishop Arkherey, the mayor's confidant and ally.

How others will see it. Leviathan stirred up controversy in Russia, where its filmmaker, Andrey Zvyagintsev, was accused of depicting Russia as a stewpot of drunkards, philanderers, and corruption. Nonetheless, the film was selected to represent the country at various cinema festivals, where it fared well. It won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film, and was nominated in that category by the Oscars and BAFTA.

At imdb.com, the user vote total of 30K is a bit underwhelming, but the average rating of 7.6 out of 10 is fairly high, given the volume of naysayers who call it boring and depressing. Americans expect a heroic final reel return by Dima to punish the mayor and free Kolya, but this never happens. Welcome to reality.

How I felt about it. The director claimed the story was based on a bizarre incident in America, Marvin Heemeyer's "killdozer" rampage. But when comparing the true crime with Leviathan, the stories have almost nothing in common. The script works in a reference to the biblical Job, but that parallel doesn't fit either.

Instead, a more apt comparison is between Mayor Vadim and Vladimir Putin. Of course, director Zvyagintsev could never admit to this, but proper discussion of the film inevitably comes to the elephant in the room. The Bing Bar says that Putin is worth $70 billion, and whom has he run against in his various elections? Their names elude me.

Beyond its political allegories, we wonder why Dima and Lilya, who otherwise seem prudent, would carry on an affair only a football field away from Kolya during an outing. It is as if they want to be caught. This goes double for Dima's attempted smackdown of the mayor. He's lucky he survives.

Still, there's no need for Lilya to drown herself. Take the car, drive into a neighbor town, enter a bar or nightclub, and get picked up by a stranger of her choosing. He's bound to be an improvement over Kolya and Roma.