“Leviathan,” a bleak drama from Russia that received an Oscar nomination for best foreign language film and won the best screenplay award at the Cannes Film Festival, gives its protagonist no quarter.
It’s no surprise that a Russian Orthodox Church priest mentions the Bible’s story of the Job to Kolya, the central character and victim of relentless misfortune in “Leviathan.”
Kolya works as an auto mechanic in a small Russian fishing town on the Barents Sea. He has his own shop and a house on land that’s been in his family for many years. He’s married to a beautiful, younger woman, and he has a teenage son whose mother, Kolya’s first wife, is deceased.
In all likelihood, Kolya would be content to live out his life repairing vehicles and supporting his wife, Lilya, and son, Roma. The normal wear from living in northern Russia and the grim surroundings of the place would be tempered by the huge amounts of vodka everyone in the town appears to consume.
Chances are Kolya, complain though he does about a local policeman who insists he fix people’s cars free of charge, would live relatively happily if the corruption he had to deal with ended with a small number of free repairs. Tragically, the town’s mayor has much bigger plans.
Kolya (Alexeï Serebriakov), an average, vodka-drinking local guy trying to get by, has a powerful, determined nemesis in the town’s mayor (Roman Madianov). He covets Kolya’s land for a purpose not fully revealed until far into the story.
The bullying mayor has no qualms about instigating injustice through official power. Scenes featuring various combinations of the abusive official with Kolya and the attorney friend from Moscow the mechanic calls upon for help are among this usually slowly churning film’s dramatic peaks.
Kolya is a small man fighting an insurmountable system that does, indeed, suggest the might of the Old Testament sea monster, Leviathan. At two hours and 20 minutes. “Leviathan,” the movie, is a long slog of a Russian tragedy. Director and co-writer Andrey Zvyagintsev, perhaps in hopes of moviegoers feeling the unfortunate Kolya’s suffering as intensely as the character himself, does not let the audience off the hook.