Leviathan Russia OFFICIAL COMPETITION
This film which won in its category at the London Film Festival is now on in Curzon Cinemas around London.
Another land grab, a different place and different style of expropriation. Made by the Director Andrey Zvyagintsev, this was one of the films I was most looking forward to, since I have loved his work (The Return, The Banishment and Elena – the first two seen at previous LFF).
Set on the Kola Peninsula, on the Baltic Sea generations of one family have lived in a slightly ramshackle house overlooking the bay, the local representative would like this piece of real estate to build on. Towards the beginning of the film we are in court listening to a series of judgements handed down though the courts permitting this compulsory purchase and dismissing the owner’s claims.
Assisted by a school friend now an attorney in Moscow, things look up slightly as there is a dossier on the corrupt official which should stop the purchase or at the very least get the true value of the land (3.5 million roubles) in cash. Of course, nothing is quite that straightforward in Russia. Not in literature, nor in film.
The visual metaphors abound – wrecked boats, the skeletal remains of a whale surrounded by the beauty of the landscape, vertiginous waterfalls and the wild, cold, implacable sea. The paucity of opportunity in the peninsula is another more subtle metaphor – the owner of the land works on clapped out motors and his wife works in a fish factory; the Muscovite attorney is better dressed and better looking and the elected representative is a bloated, physically repellent plutocrat. Vodka goes down as if it was mineral water and all three main characters show the effects of drunkenness in their own particular ways.
This David and Goliath struggle though, is not without moments of humour. For example, after a bout of heavy drinking one man picks up a child ready to drive home, his wife says “are you safe to drive?”, the response “of course, I am a traffic cop”! There are several other very telling vignettes, the heavies are all thick necked and in dark suits, some of the flunkies are characteristically fat and ugly. The devil is in the detail. Zvyagintsev once again shows us a beguilingly simple Russian story in which to challenge authority is to lose everything.