Tag Archives: Leviathan

All You Need


by Hope Madden

There is a deep and deeply Russian melancholy to the films of Andrey Zvyagintsev.

Loveless opens on a sweet-faced boy meandering playfully through the woods between school and home. Once home, Alexey (Matvey Novikov) stares blankly out his bedroom window while his hostile mother (Maryana Spivak) shows the apartment to two prospective buyers.

Alexey’s parents are divorcing. Each has gone on to another relationship, each indulges images of future comfort and bliss, each bristles at the company of the other, and neither has any interest in bringing Alexey into their perfect futures.

So complete is their self-absorption that it takes more than a day before either realizes 12-year-old Alexey hasn’t been home.

Zvyagintsev’s films depict absence as much as presence. His dilapidated buildings become emblematic characters, as do his busily detailed living quarters. They appear to represent a fractured image of Russia, whose past haunts its present as clearly as these abandoned buildings mar the urban landscape where Alexey and his parents live.

TV and radio newsbreaks setting the film’s present day in 2012 concern political upheaval and war in Ukraine. They sometimes tip the film toward obviousness, Zvyagintsev’s allegory to the moral blindness of his countrymen becoming a little stifling.

Alexey’s parents Zhenya and Boris—thankless roles played exquisitely by Spivak and Aleksey Rozin—border on parody in their remarkable self-obsession. But this is a tension Zvyagintsev builds intentionally, and it is thanks to the stunning performances as well as the director’s slow, open visual style that his film never abandons its human drama in favor of its larger themes.

Like the filmmaker’s 2015 Oscar nominee Leviathan, another poetic dip into Russian misery, Loveless does offer small reasons for optimism. The volunteers—led by a dedicated Ivan (Aleksey Fateev), who has no time for bickering parents—brighten an otherwise exhaustingly grim look at familial disintegration.

Loveless doesn’t balance intimacy and allegory as well as Leviathan did, and its opinion of the Russian people feels more like finger wagging this time around, but Zvyagintsev remains a storyteller like few other. His latest is a visually stunning gut punch.

Of Whales and Men

Russia’s contender for the Oscar last week is the devastating everyman struggle Leviathan.

The film is so intimate, so generously detailed yet provocatively ambiguous that you can almost overlook the larger metaphorical drama.

Hard drinking hothead Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov) finds himself in a losing battle for his own property, a prime piece of beachfront real estate the town’s corrupt mayor wants for his own purposes. Still bullishly optimistic, Kolya calls in a favor from an old army buddy, now a high powered Moscow lawyer. The lawyer has dirt on the mayor, but justice is complicated in Russia.

Director Andrey Zvyaginstev draws wonderfully understated performances from his entire cast. Serebryakov is an aggravatingly empathetic center, profoundly flawed but deeply human. Equal to him is Elena Lyadova as Kolya’s world-wearied, enigmatic wife. And Roman Madyanov is sloppy perfection as the old school Russian thug/politician.

Zvyaginstev’s vision is one of Russia in transition. Old World practices mesh with a current sense of entitlement from the Orthodox Church, and the newly democratic Russia seems to find its footing in the same old place – the throat of the people.

The film is richly allegorical from start to finish. The visual metaphors, in particular, are sometimes heavy but never unintentionally so. Zvyagintsev means to slap the audience now and again with both the overwhelming plight of the Russian everyman, and with his fighting spirit – boozy and bruised, but hard to extinguish.

Cinematographer Mikhail Krishman’s astonishing photography connects the viewer to the rugged beauty of the Russian land, the very earthliness that holds Kolya so firmly. He can trace his attachment to this plot of oceanside property for generations and without it, he’s terrifyingly untethered – a lost soul.

Leviathan is not without humor, and though Kolya’s plight grows overwhelming in biblical proportions, Zvyaginstev refuses to lose sight of the intimate, personal battle that grounds his epic metaphor.

It’s a breathtaking feat of filmmaking.