BFI London Film Festival – Review of Best Film, Leviathon

By October 20, 2014Festivals, Film, News, Reviews

Cannes in a Van regular Janus Avivson has been reviewing the films from the 2014 BFI London Film Festival.
Here is his take on the winner of Best Film from the festival, Leviathon.

Russia 2014, 140 min, dir Andrey Zvyagintsev

The first piece of poetry in the Bible is The Book of Job. It deals with divine justice in the face of human suffering. Briefly, why we, doing right things in life, suffer. A good question indeed. Ancient Jews dealt with this issue by writing about it and trying to explain it. Satan, always the provocateur, provokes God to take everything from Job, a successful citizen, and tempts Job to abandon his faith in God. Job loses everything he had, family, property, health, but does not give up and praises God regardless. He is being rewarded for his faith and is restored to his previous blessed condition.

This is basically what the Russian film “Leviathan”, which got the first prize at the BFI festival 2014, is about, except that the setting is contemporary and in the Russian wild North West.

Leviathan is a sea monster, described by Job, and in popular culture is synonymous with the power of Satan. The film deals with the power of authority and how it affects ordinary people. The corrupt mayor of town wants to acquire property of the main character, who tries to prevent it. Love and tragedy is experienced by heroes of the film, landscape is severe, weather rough, and there is a lot of heavy drinking. This is a Shakespearian adventure and a strong critique of corruption, no wonder the director received support from the Russian Ministry of Culture. However, because of anti-swearing laws, introduced in August 2014, the film cannot be shown in public spaces in Russia. Thanks God swearing is alright here! Powerful film indeed, in the best Russian tradition, definitely a different level of filmmaking from many current productions, and I am sure that Tarkowsky would be proud seeing that he had such a good student.

Incidentally, the main actor, Aleksey Serebryakov, known for his theatre productions since he was 13 years old (he is 50 now, the same age as director Zvyagintsev), emigrated to Canada two years ago with his family, complaining about corruption in Russia!

The film is the Russian submission to the best foreign language film category of the next Oscar awards.