Leviathan won the Golden Globe award for Best Foreign Language Film. Keep in mind that for the last four years, the Golden Globe foreign film winner has gone on to win the Academy Award. Leviathan also gained the best screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival.
This is a bleak and disheartening story about a man for whom everything seems to be going wrong. What has attracted so much attention to the film is its startling portrayal of the government and the church as corrupt institutions. The villain, the local mayor, even has a framed photo of Vladimir Putin hanging over his desk.
Nikolai, a mechanic whose first wife died, lives in a coastal town in the far northwest of Russia with his young second wife and his teenage son from his first marriage. He is overwhelmed by the mayor’s attempts to kick him out of the waterfront home his family built and seize his land. He enlists the aid of an old Army buddy, Dmitri, who is now a big-shot lawyer in Moscow.
Dmitri is definitely on the case, bringing with him an incriminating dossier about the mayor. But then Nikolai catches his wife having sex with Dmitri. Toss in the fact that Nikolai’s son hates him for marrying the young second wife and, as I said, everything seems to be going wrong. Except that it gets even worse.
Director Andrey Zvyagintsev has said that although the title, Leviathan, has multiple meanings, it does refer to Thomas Hobbes’ 17th century work of the same name. A couple quotes from Hobbes and you get the idea: in “a time of war…every man is enemy to every man….In such condition…worst of all, continual fear, and danger of violent death; and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.”
There’s a cynical joke among foreign film aficionados that if Leviathan wins the Academy Award, Vladimir Putin will praise it as proof that freedom of speech is alive and well in Russia, but if it loses, director Zvyagintsev might start making films abroad.