Leviathan. 2014. Russia. Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev. 140 min.
Marking a full decade since his 2003 debut, The Return, Andrey Zvyagintsev's magnum opus, Leviathan, premiered at this year's Cannes to unanimous acclaim, winning the Best Screenplay award and establishing him as a true master of cinema.
With the film's magisterial opening—the coastal landscape of the Barents Sea, set to the clarion call of Philip Glass's symphonic score—Zvyagintsev sets the stage for a story in which human intrigues are indistinguishable from forces of nature.
In a small seaside town, weather-beaten patriarch Kolya (Alexey Serebryakov) lives with his teenage son Roma (Sergey Pokhadaev) and second wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova). Their idyllic homestead harbours deep-rooted familial resentments that are aggravated by the aggressions of the local mayor Vadim (Roman Madyanov), a drunken, corrupt bureaucrat set on grabbing their land for himself. When Kolya calls in his lawyer friend Dima (Vladimir Vdovitchenkov) from Moscow, this defensive tactic triggers a series of dramatic events.
In the hands of Zvyagintsev and co-writer Oleg Negin, the premise expands from a rural-scale morality play to a philosophical examination of contemporary Russian society. Zvyagintsev and his regular cinematographer Mikhail Krichman give a painterly, meditative rendering to this tale whose near-primordial themes have their roots in Thomas Hobbes and the Book of Job.
Zvyagintsev has already been called a successor to Tarkovsky; with Leviathan he forges ahead and stakes out a cinematic territory of his own, analyzing the human (and, implicitly, Russian) spirit with an immediacy and urgency that will bear repeated viewings for decades to come" (Dimitri Eipides, Toronto International Film Festival 2014). Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.