Lengthy Leviathan tells tragic tale

Neither Russian literature nor cinema is renowned for its brevity or economy, and Andrey Zvyagintsev’s upholds and extends this tradition with Leviathan, a film whose considerable power is constantly sapped by its heavy-handedness and overlength. It’s an absorbing and beautifully made film, and it could have been a great one had its maker known when to quit – and to cut.

At the heart of the film is the struggle of Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov) to hold onto the property that has been his family’s for generations, but which is coveted by the region’s mayor (Roman Madianov) for its value. Despite the efforts of his lawyer Dimitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov), the Russian bureaucracy is unsympathetic to Kolya’s appeal.

The film, which is not to be confused with the 1989 underwater monster mash of the same title, earned the Golden Globe Award and an Oscar nomination as Best Foreign Language Film, proceeds to depict Kolya’s (very) long, slow descent into despair, fueled by copious amounts of drink and by the revelation that Dimitri is having an affair with his wife (Elena Lyadova).

The story recalls the Biblical saga of Job, which is spelled out in a later exchange between Kolya and the local priest (Igor Sergeev). Things only get worse for Kolya as the film progresses, as Zvyagintsev emphasizes, re-emphasizes, and overemphasizes the symbolism of the story.

(Appropriately enough, the mayor has a portrait of Putin hanging in his office, balefully staring down upon him.)

Mikhail Krichman’s archly beautiful cinematography and Philip Glass’ evocative score, combined with uniformly good performances, makes Leviathan worth seeing, but this is one case where shorter would have been better – and sharper. (In Russian with English subtitles)

Leviathan opens Friday at a/perture cinema, Winston-Salem !

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