I finally caught up with Leviathan last week. Whenever it plays at the Tyneside, it’s completely booked out, the streets outside swirling with burly young Russian men. Where do they come from? Where do they live? Don’t they have girlfriends and wives? What do they do when they aren’t swirling outside the Tyneside Cinema?
WikiLeaks published previously unavailable, confidential diplomatic cables from the US Government in 2014 which describe Russia as a virtual Mafia state. Not note, Moscow as a mafia city, the whole country as a Mafia state. Not that anyone with even a glancing acquaintance with current events doesn’t know what life is like in Vlad’s Russia. You don’t have to have read Luke Harding’s book to get the picture.
So, Leviathan is a grim and bleak film about life under the regime; as all the commentators say, it’s amazing it got made, let alone found a release in the West. It was up for an Oscar but didn’t win but it did receive the award for Best Foreign Film. It has five star reviews from all the usual film critics, the Guardian, the Independent which calls it Chekhovian and of course, the American site, Rotten Tomatoes. ‘The cool grey dawns and barren landscapes express Kolya’s despair and isolation’, according to Susan Tavernetti of the Palo Alto Weekly. Not sure where Palo Alto is but me? Not convinced. There is a plot but it is back of an envelope stuff; the Moscow lawyer has a folder but that is all we know. The pretty girl sleeps with him. Why? To provide conflict? Isn’t there enough? There is a long and uninteresting section that shows how real Russian men escape the realities of life by hunting, shooting and drinking until they cannot stand up. But we already know all that.
The subtitles are just terrible. It may well be that there is great literature in there but we aren’t going to hear it; the people responsible for releasing this should really have paid a lot more attention to sub-titling it. To be or not to be, that is the question is reduced to, ‘What am I gonna do now, Bro?’
I know, I know, moan, moan, moan and yes, I have read Roger Ebert’s rave review [here if anyone is interested]. It is beautifully filmed to take advantage of the wintry, bleakness of the landscape and pretty well acted but like everything else I seem to have reviewed recently, Amy, Childs Pose, Ida it shakes you by the shoulders, beats you around the head and just when you are shouting at the screen, ‘I get it, I get it’. It takes out its sledgehammer.
I want nuance, not melodrama Chekhovian or otherwise. I want Spring in a Small Town, Wolf Hall, King Charles 3, Olive Kitteridge, Under the Skin.