Review of "Leviathan (DVD)"
I like a challenge... so will the end of this year and next (2016) see me return with a 'Around the world in 80 Films' attempt? (Actually can I even find 80 countries I can watch and review films from!)
Leviathan is a much acclaimed Russian movie that was released in 2014. Directed and written by Andrey Zvyagintsev (who had previously made the intriguing The Return and the wonderful Elena) it is based on a news report he heard while in America. The story of Marvin Heemeyer, from Colorado, interested him so much he wanted to make a film of the story and realised that the circumstances were not particular to the USA and rethought it to make it more Russian.The basic story is a pretty simple one. Nikolay is a hard working family man, he lives by the coast in a small Russian town. He has a hard but good life, until the Mayor tells him that they are going to demolish his house for a new building and that he will have to find somewhere else to live. He is offered money but it is a pittance and Kolya decides that he is going to fight against this seemingly arbitrary decision.
He contacts an old army friend who has become a lawyer in Moscow and he soon arrives to come and help his former comrade... but will he be able to help or does the mayor have the upper hand?
I was attracted to this movie by the great reviews, the Oscar nomination and because the story is one of those ones that always manages to grab me… I am a sucker for a good bit of legal to and froes! The story does manage to realistically portray the struggles of a single man as he tries to fight the establishment and it also does it in such a way that you are constantly wondering whether he will succeed, where is it going to go next and how can Kolya/The Mayor get out of this discovery!
The story is one common the world over, the simple, common man fighting against the government (local or national) against all odds, discovering corruption is just one of the many injustices he will have to rail against. Because it is something we can easily understand Leviathan is a foreign film that can easily be watched by anyone who doesn’t mind the subtitles. You certainly get on Kolya’s side pretty quickly (question is will you remain on it?) and you wonder how it is possible that he can be treated this way. You wonder about the vagaries of Russian justice and their laws (though no doubt we have as strange a way of doing things, we just don’t often notice them unless they are pointed out. I would imagine local law here has the strange little quirks that can only be exploited by the council/government)
More than that though it is the characters that really make this a great film to watch. Much like Elena, the previous film from Zvyagintsev, it is a film where the story is wrapped around the characters and the one would fluidly interacts with the other.
Aleksey Serebryakov as Nikolay is really great casting. He seems to embody exactly what I imagine a hard working, hard drinking Russian would be, and look, like and because of this you also really believe his desire to fight against his treatment. He has a beautiful young wife and a teenage son and has enough problems dealing with them let alone having the mayor trying to ruin his life even more!
Elena Lyadova as Lilya, his young wife, has, for most of the film, quite a muted role. Again though this seems to fit the story and how you think of Nikolay. There is obviously something more to him if he can attract a beautiful young woman as his wife.
One is the spectacular scenery. It certainly isn’t spectacular in the sense that I would want to visit there but it is perfectly suited to the story being told. Harsh but beautiful, the blues of the sea and whites of the snow mingling into a poetic vision of a land that has its beauty but you may have to try hard to see it.
The second thing I really loved about this movie was the complete lack of background music. It is something you kind of take for granted in an America/British/Western movie that when you notice the absence of it it really does add an awful lot to the viewing experience. How does this make sense you may say? Well consider that Leviathan is possibly best categorised as a thriller. If this was a western movie then anytime anything exciting was about to happen, especially if it was dangerous to our ‘hero’ we would hear the music change and you would get that suspense filled music in the background. You automatically register this and know something is coming up. Here, without and music, anything and everything that happens is a complete surprise (well you may guess some things but you don’t know exactly when they will happen!). I love this as I was completely caught out by things a couple of times because I didn’t have that lead in music. It is a strange things when the lack of something I am so used to is the thing that ends up being the thing enhances the experience of this film so much.
Leviathan is a wonderful exploration of the small man, of corruption, of family and friendship, of the meaning of quality of life and is well worth seeing (and if you like this I also highly recommend Elena, it is even better than this one!)
Part of Around The World in 80 Film:
Number 10 - Russia
Product Information : Leviathan (DVD)
Manufacturer's product description
DVD Region: DVD
Video Category: World Cinema Feature Film
Classification: 15 years and over
Production Year: 2014
Actor(s): Aleksey Serebryakov, Elena Lyadova, Roman Madyanov
Director(s): Andrey Zvyagintsev
Country Of Origin: Russia
Listed on Ciao since: 29/02/2016