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Anna Matveeva/Sony Pictures Classics

Leviathan (2014)

"Leviathan" suggests an entire nation marooned in state of despair. Andrey Zvyagintsev's new inquiry into the wrong turns taken by modern Russia reaches much the same conclusions as his previous ones, but tells a more explicitly political tale in the process — which makes the fate of the little people caught in the wash seem even more pitiable and inescapable than ever.

In a bracingly austere landscape next to the Barents Sea, good-hearted husband Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov) tries to prevent his home and land from being bought up by the slimy local mayor, Vadim (Roman Madianov), whose business tactics run to intimidation, bullying and potentially worse. Kolya resorts to what passes for due legal process — a complete waste of time; in fact, a terrible error — while his relationships with both wife and son fray around the edges.

There are some well-spaced jokes in "Leviathan" and comedy in both black and white varieties, although it's the humor of the gallows, as dessicated as the whale skeleton beached on the local shore. Mr. Zvyagintsev ties Orthodox Church and Russian state together into one malfunctioning whole, which proceeds to steamroller Kolya into the dirt for no explicit reasons beyond the exercise of power. Kolya — a simple soul with a wife unhappy enough to fall into bed with his lawyer — reacts mainly by buying his booze in bulk. Mr. Zvyagintsev clearly thinks such a reaction understandable but far too late in the game; more revolutionary steps were called for, and some time back.

The director once again appropriates existing Philip Glass music, as he did in "Elena," giving his film a sense of cosmic predestination; but it's the human beings you remember, especially Elena Liadova as Kolya's wife Lilya. Ms. Liadova was a spark of brunette fire as the daughter in "Elena," and just as good here as a wife whose hope seems to be draining into the floorboards. Everyone else's has emptied out already — apart from those who happen to be holding political office or wearing vestments — and their children are already rehearsing the look. In "Elena" the underprivileged next generation was a troublemaking rabble, turning on themselves; in "Leviathan" they're numbed, sat listlessly around a fire in an derelict church, freed from the terrible burden of a hopeful future.


Opens on Nov. 7 in Britain and on Dec. 25 in the United States

Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev; written by Oleg Negin and Mr. Zvyagintsev; director of photography, Mikhail Krichman; edited by Anna Mass; music by Philip Glass; production design by Andrey Ponkratov; costumes by Anna Bartuli; produced by Alexander Rodnyansky and Sergey Melkumov; released by Artificial Eye (Britain) and Sony Pictures Classics (United States). In Russian, with English subtitles. Running time: 2 hours 21 minutes. This film is rated 15 by B.B.F.C. and R by M.P.A.A.

WITH: Aleksey Serebryakov (Kolya), Elena Liadova (Lilya), Vladimir Vdovichenkov (Dmitri), Roman Madianov (Vadim Shelevyat), Anna Ukolova (Angela), Aleksey Rozin (Pacha) and Sergey Pokhodaev (Roma).


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