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ARTS & ENTERTAINMENT

Leviathan

Leviathan is arduous by design. But that’s little conciliation when you’re struggling to sit through it.
By Tom Clift
April 06, 2015
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By Tom Clift
April 06, 2015
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Russia’s nomination to the 2014 Foreign Language Oscar race is every bit as slow and imposing as its title would suggest. Ostensibly named for the enormous blue whales whose bones scatter the shoreline of the small coastal town of Pribrezhny, the name Leviathan more readily refers to the unfeeling, unyielding behemoth of the Russian bureaucracy that devours everything in its path. Acclaimed director Andrey Zvyagintsev does a masterful job capturing the misery of life under such a corrupt and broken system. Of course, whether that’s something you actually want to watch is a different question entirely.

Don’t get us wrong: there’s plenty to appreciate about Zvyagintsev’s latest feature. Chief among them would be the raw, brutish performance of Aleksey Serebryakov. A mainstay of the Russian screen industry, Serebryakov plays Kolya, a quick-tempered auto mechanic who runs afoul of Pribrezhny’s mayor (played by Roman Madyanov), who wants to seize the valuable headland currently occupied by Kolya’s house. In order to fight back, Kolya calls on Dimitriy (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), a friend from his days in the army and now a high-powered lawyer in Moscow.

Through Kolya’s struggle, Zvyagintsev presents viewers with a scathing critique of contemporary Russian society — a grim, vodka-soaked landscape of dodgy politicians with little concern for the citizens who put them in office. It’s compelling for a time, in a depressing sort of way, watching the poor, emasculated Kolya gain inches only to be set back miles.

Those hoping that the prevalence of religious imagery might signal a David and Goliath ending are likely to leave the cinema disappointed. The hopelessness of Kolya's situation is reflected in the work of cinematographer Mikhail Krichman, who favours wide lenses, static camera work and a colour palette overpowered by greys.

Unfortunately, as Leviathan plods past the two hour mark, you too may begin to feel overpowered. For all his insight, Zvyagintsev isn’t trading in a particularly nuanced brand of bleakness, his message driven home with all the dull, repetitive pounding of a sledgehammer, or waves crashing endlessly on the shore. Leviathan is arduous by design. But that’s little conciliation when you’re struggling to sit through it.

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