Tuesday, 17th May: Leviathan (15)

Russia  –  Drama  –  Year: 2014  –  Running time: 140 min

Audience response after showing this film:
Rating: ★★★★½ (4.36 from 22 responses)

  • ‘Excellent’: 9 votes
  • ‘Very Good’: 12 votes
  • ‘Good’: 1 vote
  • ‘Satisfactory’: 0 votes
  • ‘Poor’: 0 votes

Read the comments here or join our discussion to continue the debate


“If anyone is curious what life is like for the average battler in Vladimir Putin’s Russia… the masterly new film from Zvyagintsev offers some revealing and disturbing answers.” “Politically charged and viscerally moving… a powerful film that challenges viewers to think about the injustices in the world which evade our tunnel vision.” “… a movie with biblical ambitions, a haunting story about a modern Job”. Praise from around the world for one of the most outstanding films of 2014.

Stunningly shot and superbly acted, especially by Madyanov, this is film-making on a grand scale.
Peter Bradshaw (Guardian)

Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
The Return (2003) / Elena (2011)
Alexsei Serebryakov         – Nikolay
Elena Lyadova                  – Lilya
Vladimir Vdovichenkov     – Dmitriy
Roman Madyanov            – Mer
(for full cast list, please visit “Leviathan” in IMDB)

CFC film notes                                       (Click here for print version) 

It was either ‘Ida’ or ‘Leviathan’ for Best Foreign Film Oscar in 2015, and the former won!  A great choice, as we will all remember it from last year’s CFC programme. But now a chance to see the magnificent and highly deserving runner-up.

The story of a family living in the far north of Russia, ‘Leviathan’ portrays a man battling to save his ancestral home from demolition after a corrupt local bureaucrat sets his sights on expropriating the land for his own purposes.

leviathan2The official reaction to the film in Russia was scathing. Vladimir Medinsky, the culture minister, told Izvestia newspaper that Leviathan’s portrayal of the church was “beyond limits”, and that “its characters were not real Russians.” Indeed, and the police officers portrayed in our own TV series ‘Line of Duty’, say, were not real police officers. Not to mention the Director of Public Prosecutions in the BBC’s recent ‘Undercover’ drama not being a real DPP. And we might go on…

Medinsky went on: “However much the authors [of Leviathan] made the characters swear and swig litres of vodka, they are not Russians. I did not recognise myself, my colleagues, friends or even friends of friends, in Leviathan.” He said that he hoped Zvyagintsev would make films in future “without this existential despair”. One may wonder what our own ‘Minister of Culture’ (doesn’t that title convey an ominous Orwellian shiver?) might say about much of British (BBC?) TV drama and independent cinema output in the privacy of his own home? And Zvyagintsev’s response? He told The Guardian he believed Medinsky should be fired for his comment and that the state funding of movies is led by a policy of “all flowers should grow but we will only water the ones we like”.

Perhaps the tone of “existential despair” detected by Medinsky was inevitable given that the Book of Job seems to be a major source of inspiration for the film, holding little hope or optimism for the human condition. The satire of Russian authorities, the Orthodox church and the power structures in Russia is vicious and unrelenting, and even the victims are not particularly sympathetic characters, driven to drink, infidelities and anguished outbursts. An Orthodox Church spokesperson condemned the film as “filthy libel” while the media in Russia completely ignored both the film and its international success on the film festival circuit. The first Russian film to win a Golden Globe since War and Peace in 1969, as well as being nominated for an Oscar, was ordered to be re-edited into a sanitised version for Russian distribution: a new law banned swearing in films.

Before Leviathan Zvyagnitsev was mostly known for his 2003 film The Return, which won him a Golden Lion at Venice. Following The Return he directed The Banishment (2007) and Elena (2011).
(ed. Peter Bunyan)

We would love to hear your views on this film.  Please join our debate here.

leviathan1Selected UK Reviews:

Sight and Sound (Ryan Gilbey)
Observer (Mark Kermode)

One thought on “Tuesday, 17th May: Leviathan (15)

  1. 1 Can you pull in the leviathan with a fishhook or tie down his tongue with a rope?
    2 Can you put a cord through his nose or pierce his jaw with a hook?
    3 Will he keep begging you for mercy? Will he speak to you with gentle words?
    4 Will he make an agreement with you for you to take him as your slave for life?
    5 Can you make a pet of him like a bird or put him on a leash for your girls?
    6 Will traders barter for him? Will they divide him up among the merchants?
    7 Can you fill his hide with harpoons or his head with fishing spears?
    8 If you lay a hand on him, you will remember the struggle and never do it again!
    9 Any hope of subduing him is false; the mere sight of him is overpowering.
    10 No-one is fierce enough to rouse him. Who then is able to stand against me?
    11 Who has a claim against me that I must pay? Everything under heaven belongs to me.
    12 I will not fail to speak of his limbs, his strength and his graceful form.
    13 Who can strip off his outer coat? Who would approach him with a bridle?
    14 Who dares open the doors of his mouth, ringed about with his fearsome teeth?
    15 His back has rows of shields tightly sealed together;
    16 Each is so close to the next that no air can pass between.
    17 They are joined fast to one another; they cling together and cannot be parted.
    18 His snorting throws out flashes of light; his eyes are like the rays of dawn.
    19 Firebrands stream from his mouth; sparks of fire shoot out.
    20 Smoke pours from his nostrils as from a boiling pot over a fire of reeds.
    21 His breath sets coals ablaze, and flames dart from his mouth.
    22 Strength resides in his neck; dismay goes before him.
    23 The folds of his flesh are tightly joined; they are firm and immovable.
    24 His chest is hard as rock, hard as a lower millstone.
    25 When he rises up, the mighty are terrified; they retreat before his thrashing.
    26 The sword that reaches him has no effect, nor does the spear or the dart or the javelin.
    27 Iron he treats like straw and bronze like rotten wood.
    28 Arrows do not make him flee, sling stones are like chaff to him.
    29 A club seems to him but a piece of straw, he laughs at the rattling of the lance.
    30 His undersides are jagged potsherds, leaving a trail in the mud like a threshing-sledge.
    31 He makes the depths churn like a boiling cauldron and stirs up the sea like a pot of ointment.
    32 Behind him he leaves a glistening wake; one would think the deep had white hair.
    33 Nothing on earth is his equal—a creature without fear.
    34 He looks down on all that are haughty; he is king over all that are proud.

Leave a Reply