This review was originally written as an article for The Mancunion newspaper.
Director: Andrey Zvyaginstev
Cast: Elena Lyadova, Vladimir Vdovichenkov, Aleskey Serebryakov
Running Time: 2hr 20min
Plot: Nikolay is not a wealthy man, but has all that a man needs: a wife, a child, a home, some guns, and a solid community at his back. When the corrupt mayor of his town tries to demolish his property, he calls up a legal consultant and ex-army comrade, but the situation deteriorates rapidly.
Thank Google for subtitles. Not that without them this Russian language film would be any less powerful- it is a triumph in every aspect, visually most of all – but they certainly come in useful during a particular courtroom scene wherein the main character, a downtrodden family man named Nikolay, is having the petition to save his house from demolition at the hands of the mountebank mayor ‘soundly rejected’. This two minute monologue is the greatest thing to happen to cinema all year: during the profoundly banal yet immensely consequential diatribe, as the camera panned in achingly slowly towards the chief magistrate, the entire audience arose from their slumping heap to a near levitational level of concentration, totally in awe of the power a single shot of a film can possess and entranced by the frantic, elliptical soundtrack.
So sublime is the pacing of the speech, so utterly mundane the subject, so Kubrickian the set design, you begin to wonder if our boy Stan didn’t really die after Eyes Wide Shut but instead pulled an Elvis by buggering off to the former Soviet union to work as a DoP for the remainder of his twilight years. Alas, Stanley Kubrick is in fact dead (I asked Tom Cruise, who was present at the open casket funeral), and the cinematography (and directing, and writing) is actually done by a man named Andrey Zvyaginstev, who apparently learnt how to film his incredible landscape panoramas and deeply emotive close ups by reading magazines.
Leviathan is no lightweight when it comes to drama, but at two hours and twenty minutes long it recognises the need for humour too, which it smatters seamlessly throughout the tragic story arc. The funniest moments are often the saddest, such as the party scene in which Nikolay and his knucklehead friends down more vodka than gets spilled on the floor of a Manchester student bar that is hosting a ‘cocktail’ night.
The harsh, wave-pummelled scapes of the coastal Russian setting serve as a constant reminder of Leviathan’s raging morality battle. Zvyaginstev occasionally taunts us with glimpses of great whales that are just out of reach, giant beasts of Poseidon who neither care for or know of the profound traumas unfolding just feet away. Leviathan is a beautiful film with perfectly understated acting performances, a smashing script, and an incredible soundtrack (which isn’t on the internet anywhere for some reason). The film is available OnDemand as you read this, and I Demand that you put it On now.