In a Russian coastal town, Kolya is forced to fight the corrupt mayor when he is told that his house will be demolished. He recruits a lawyer friend to help, but the man’s arrival brings further misfortune for Kolya and his family.
I had ben curious about this movie ever since it won the Golden Globe for Best Foreign Film in 2015. It looked like a stunning film and I’m always up to watching more foreign films & Russian films. So I was very happy when I finally got around to picking it up and watching it.
My first impressions of the movie were twofold. Firstly, the cinematography was absolutely stunning. I know I said it already, and the trailer gives a hint of the way this movie was filmed, but watching it was quite a treat. The locations used–all in the Murmansk Oblast facing the white sea (Wikipedia)–really gives a feel of the setting of the story, but also of the country. This is not Moscow or St. Peterburg; out here the infrastructure isn’t so great and life is hard. The scenery shots were amazing though and really gives a sense of solidness even as the characters go through a hell of a time. The first three to five minutes alone were just about amazing to watch as it gives a survey of the land and the coasts with the rousing music to Philip Glass’ “Akhnaten” (absolutely glorious, I should add, and perfect for the movie):
Secondly, the way the story unfolds and is presented to the audience resembles very much like a Russian classic novel: on the surface it seems like you’ve figured it out, there’s only one major conflict on the horizon and otherwise everything looks to be status quo but as the story progresses, there’s a lot of conflict underneath the surface. The conflict is twofold, with Kolya going up agains the Mayor in trying to hold on to his home and property that he’s worked and lived all his life, and the second being within his family and Dmitri inadvertently changing the dynamics in there. It’s not a happy tale as all of the characters sink into further misery compounded by daily life, going against a corrupt system, and conflicts both internal and with one another that just spur the tragedy to its climax. As many have mentioned, the story is much like a modern day retelling of the Book of Job. It’s a very bleak story–I was watching this with my dad and he was quite sad up to the following day because the story was just so sad, with the corrupt and the system winning the day–but I was absolutely glued to the story.
What else can I say about this film? The actors were fantastic as are all of the themes and the ways in which all of these story elements and groups all intersect, how both storylines with Kolya eventually collide into a double-whammy of a tragedy. I was surprised to learn that the inspiration for this movie was from a case that happened in the United States in the early 2000s but it works perfectly in this setting, not only in raising a number of interesting questions about life but also revealing (however inadvertently) the misuse of power and the injustices and hypocrises that exist. It’s not for everyone, but The Leviathan was a very interesting movie that deserved the accolades that it received.*
* Having watched this and Ida (review), the movie that won Best Foreign Film at the Oscars in 2015, I think this movie should’ve won at the Oscars. While Ida was also quite artsy in its filming and touched on heavy issues about the past, the story felt simpler, whereas here the conflicts are much more fleshed out and amplified the ending tragedy, not to mention the themes were much stronger. But anyway, I’m glad it still got the Golden Globe.