Leviathan

No, not the 1989 deep-sea thriller with Peter Weller, nor the experimental 2012 documentary on commercial fishing from Harvard’s Sensory Ethnography Lab; this Leviathan is Russia’s latest official Oscar contender, interesting ahead of time on account of also being a confrontational dramatic exposé of Russian political and cultural corruption. Writer-director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s somehow sublimely bitter tragedy contains no actual Old Testament sea monster to speak of, although the appearance of a beached whale skeleton is conspicuous, as is a general influence from the Book of Job. Post-Soviet life is not sweet along the shores of the Barents Sea, where a middle-aged mechanic (Aleksey Serebryakov) endures increasingly unfavorable negotiations with his beautiful doom-barometer wife (Elena Lyadova), his sullen teenage son (Sergey Pokhodaev), and a petty, portly mayor (Roman Madyanov) who’s determined to run him out of business and out of town, apparently just for the thrill of manifesting malfeasance. Our man brings on an old friend (Vladimir Vdovichenkov) to be his lawyer, and to avoid spoilers here let’s just say that he doesn’t help. In this place of vodka-dampened despair, tucked away within cinematographer Mikhail Krichman’s austere imagery of forlorn rocky seacoasts, hope has little purchase. It’s a place where, as one woman sums it up, “Men are all the same. First, you’re pretty. Next, they’ll kill you.” And yet here this movie is to show it to us, which suggests that hope hasn’t let go entirely.