“Can you pull in Leviathan with a fishhook, or tie down its tongue with a rope? Will it keep begging you for mercy? Will it speak to you with gentle words? Nothing on Earth is its equal. It is king over all that are proud.”
‘Leviathan’, directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev in 2014, is a Russian drama set in a small coastal town in the north of the country. Aleksei Serebryakov plays Kolya, a soldier turned car mechanic who is fighting the mayor of the town over plans to demolish his house to make way for a project. Kolya enlists the help of an old military comrade, Dima, played by Vladimir Vdovichenkov, who is now a top lawyer in Moscow. Dima comes to the town having dug up dirt on the mayor, but just as he is about to win the case of Kolya, Dima is discovered sleeping with his friends wife, Lilya, played by Elena Lyadova. This discovery sets in motion a chain of events that ultimately lead to tragedy. It’s a beautiful, if stark, looking film in which the melodrama of a disintegrating family is framed by a startlingly engrossing political conspiracy narrative. The main thing that stood out for me was the characterisation of the unstable, mercurial Kolya and his relationship with his son, Roma. There’s a theme in the movie of a threat to masculinity: the actions of the major, of Dima the lawyer, of the son, the other townspeople and Kolya himself all follow the same pattern of vodka soaked violence and expression through physical action. I couldn’t help seeing this film in a political context, as a parody, or perhaps a commentary on, the corruption and adrenalinised hyper-masculinity of the Putin presidency. In one scene, the townspeople are having a party which involves shooting and vodka, and they decide to use old photographs of Russian leaders as targets – this one scene appears to sum up the regard Serebryakov has towards the political establishment.
Would I recommend it? Yes – the thing it reminded me most of was the rash of Nordic crime thrillers on the television over the past few years. Like them, this movie has a blend of claustrophobic local politics and domestic melodrama that intertwine perfectly