Original Title: Левиафан (Leviafan)
Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Genre: Crime, Drama
12.12.2019: This review was first published on 18.04.2018 and is being updated for a more complete review, together with the publishing of the YouTube Version.
Hello, Welcome to Ulven Reviews!
Leviathan is a Russian movie released in 2014 and directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev. It tells the story of a humble mechanic and his family fighting against the established power in his small town.
The next 32 reviews, including this one, are part of a special series made before the 2018 Men’s Football World Cup, with a movie from every one of the nations that participated in the competition, beginning with the hosts, Russia.
In this series, I will also talk briefly about the national team’s history and about how the team performed in the tournament.
World Cup Historic
There were three incarnations of Russia’s football team. The first represented the Russian Empire, it lasted until the beginning of the First World War, in 1914. This team never played any World Cup, because the tournament was born only in 1930.
The Soviet Union National Team existed from 1923 to when the union was dissolved in 1991. They played seven World Cups, achieving a fourth place in 1966.
The third incarnation is the current 26 years old Russian Football team, the host of the 2018 World Cup. Participants in 1994, 2002 and 2014, never passing the group stage so far.
In the 2018 tournament, they finally passed the group stage with solid football that included a 5-nill win in the opening match against Saudi Arabia. They went all the way to the quarter-finals, losing to Croatia on penalties.
Before reaching the quarter-finals, the Russian team achieved what I believe to be their best accomplishment in the competition when they beat Spain, one of the title favorites, on penalties in the round of 16.
My first choice for this spot was Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, but when I was about to start writing, I realized Solaris is Soviet, so I decided to review something from the current Russian Federation and went with the 2015 Oscar Nominee.
Leviathan tells the story of Kolya, a family man having his home taken by the corrupt state. The script is a modern reimaging of the Bible’s Book of Job, even mentioned by a Priest during the film.
Andrey Zvyagintsev, the director of Leviathan, had the idea inspired by the real story of Marvin Heemeyer, whose dispute with the town of Granby led to the Killdozer rampage, ending with his suicide. Later comparing with Heinrich von Kleist’s novella Michael Kohlhaas, Zvyagintsev realized it was a story that could fit in any time or place.
We can also see the parallel with Thomas Hobbes’ main work, “Leviathan: Or The Matter, Forme, & Power of a Common-Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civill”, not only because of the title but also in the actions of the powerful people in the movie.
In the book, Hobbes says that the individual is free and evil by nature, but for the social well-being, the individual abdicates from this freedom leaving for the state the responsibility to bring order.
For Hobbes, the state must be unquestionable, superior to the will of any individual, protecting the society against their destructive nature. The absolutist power proposed by Hobbes must enforce their rule even if necessary the use of oppression.
The powers in Andrey Zvyagintsev’s film are the administration of the state, the police, judicial system, and even the church, and they use anything in their reach to achieve their objectives.
Kolya, played by Aleksei Serebryakov, is a mechanic living in a little coastal Russian town with his wife Lilya, portrayed by Elena Lyadova and his teenage son of the first marriage, Roma played by Sergey Pokhodaev.
The corrupt mayor of the city, Vadim (played by Roman Madyanov), wants to take Kolya’s land, doing whatever it takes. So Dima, played by Vladimir Vdovichenkov, lawyer and Kolya’s long-time friend, leaves Moscow to defend him from the mayor’s tyranny.
Of course, when you are fighting the power, things don’t go smoothly, especially when the power is corrupt and willing to do anything to achieve its goals. So is in that struggle where the movie resides.
The movie is amazing. Its visuals are gorgeous since the opening scene, the characters are believable, relatable, make us feel for them, and we can say the same about the plot in general.
The acting is just perfect from everyone, the actors convey a vast range of emotions, making me feel anguished and angry, most of the time, but also making me laugh in several others.
With harsh criticism inside Russia, Leviathan was very well praised in the rest of the world. One of the main reasons pointed by the critics for the praising of the movie was the direction, and I agree 100%.
The movie has many great examples of how great the director’s job was, but I chose one where a priest gives a long speech about truth and morality when showing the crooked mayor. At first, I thought it was about the hypocrisy of an immoral man so comfortable during a morality speech, but I changed my mind.
After watching the scene several times I changed my perception, but I don’t know what Zvyagintsev wanted to convey with it, maybe it’s something different from both my interpretations.
My new perception was how some despicable people think they’re good, honest, and truthful. One of the verses spelled out by the priest is John 8:32, used and abused by the most despicable politician I know.
Maybe I’m completely off, but the fact that I’m thinking about the possibilities and interpretations of this scene already demonstrates how Zvyagintsev’s work in Leviathan was marvelous, instigating my thoughts and reflection.
The core of the story is the common folk confronted by powerful and corrupt people, in this case, the state. In Leviathan, it happens directly, but the same dynamic happens in our everyday lives with less-direct confrontations.
It is a very emotional experience, lasting for practically every minute of the movie and it is possible because of the great execution of the movie. The location, the climate, every little aspect seems to fit perfectly to make this tragedy happen.
As I said in The Killing review, I love tragedy and melancholy, so I’m glad I chose Leviathan to open the 2018 World Cup Series in a good note, I’m gonna give it 9 Moons, now we have 31 reviews left to do in this series.
P.S.: This review has random pictures I found nice, but the video has scenes showing the actors and characters.