Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev has experienced worldwide success on his previous films Elena and The Return, and his most recent release Leviathan keeps this streak firmly intact. The film received multiple accolades on its release, including Best Screenplay at the Cannes Film Festival and Best Foreign Language film at the 72nd Golden Globes, and had critics raving across the world.
This intriguing film sees Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov), his wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova), and Kolya’s teenage son Roma (Sergey Pokhodyaev) fighting for their seaside home in a power struggle against corrupt Mayor Vadim (Roman Madyanov), who wishes to demolish the house for his own personal gain. Desperate to overthrow the Mayor, Kolya employs his old friend Dmitriy (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), a lawyer from Moscow, to fight for his case in court. But Dmitriy’s arrival turns the small Russian family inside out in an entirely new way, with unforeseen and tragic consequences.
Set against the backdrop of a small coastal town in Russia, this film is filled to the brim with ominous and beautiful landscape shots of steely grey seas and barren grass hills that reflect the dire nature of this family’s situation. The word “harrowing” comes to mind when describing both the environment and the story, however both are showcased with the most stunning cinematography, exquisite direction and powerhouse performances right from the lead actors to the supporting cast members. There is no doubting that this is an incredibly well crafted film.
However, if you’re looking for something uplifting then you have most definitely come to the wrong place. Everything about this film is tragic, to the point where it feels almost exaggeratedly awful for no particular reason. Not one character in the film is remotely likable or particularly relatable, and it paints a grim picture of Russian culture with corruption running rampant and vodka-consumption reaching inconceivable heights. While the story is for the most part deeply engrossing, I also feel the ending added to the audience’s alienation, as it concludes with so many questions unanswered. While there is merit in leaving some things up to the viewer’s interpretation, leave too many loose ends and audiences will walk away unsatisfied and, in my case, frankly a little baffled.
Even so, Leviathan is definitely a foreign film worth the effort. While everyone will enjoy the movie’s wonderful construction and breathtaking landscapes, each individual can take their own interpretation of the story away with them.