Imagine looking out onto a grey, wind-swept landscape, nothing but the wind whistling through your ears and nothing living in sight. No birds, insects, or any signs of any kind of habitation. It’s as if you’ve stepped onto a hitherto unknown and barren planet. Now get used to this image because it will be burned into the inside of your skull if you ever watch Leviathan.
Leviathan is a film set in a fishing town in the deep, deep north of Russia. The film centres on the red-faced Kolya, played by Alexei Serebriakov, and his fight to keep his home from the corrupt mayor Vadim, played by Roman Madyanov.
The film is quintessentially Russian. Indeed, much of the film focuses on issues facing Russian society like the corruption of local bureaucrats and the role of religion in a post-atheistic State, and there’s no denying that the harsh beauty of the environment the film is set in seems to intrinsically reflect the bleak circumstances of the characters. . Everything seems alien and inhospitable, from the sea crashing against the cliffs to the abandoned crumbling buildings. At points however, the film lingers on these shots for just a moment too long, losing the viewer’s attention. Granted, the visuals were beautiful but there is a limit to how much one can take before it loses impact and becomes merely tedious – beautiful, but tedious.
One of my main issues with the film was the character of Koyla’s wife, Lilya (Elena Liadova). Perhaps her character’s silent manner was meant to be understood as contemplative and intelligent, but she spoke approximately six lines of dialogue and spent the rest of the film blankly staring at either other characters’ faces or out into the middle-to-far distance. Basically, her character was irritating and annoying, which might have been ok, had it been a character trait and not simply due to lack of character traits. The other issue with the film was that at 140 minutes long, it seemed to drag on and on. I spent the first half hour of the film wondering who these characters were and why I should care about them, and then the last half hour wondering why the film hadn’t ended ten minutes ago.
Overall, there are some great moments in the film, especially when vodka becomes involved, and the cinematography is stunning and captures a landscape not seen by many, but the characters were consistently underdeveloped and the running time definitely could have been shorter by about forty minutes, at the very least.