Job and the Whale
[pullquote cite=”” type=”left, right”][amazon text=Amazon&template=carousel&chan=That Film Guy&asin=B00OUVCQBQ][/pullquote] If someone were to tell you a film was a ˜Russian Epic’ you might be forgiven for thinking bleak landscapes, social oppression, cold winters and big servings of vodka. In many ways that’s exactly what you get in Leviathan, the startling new film from director Andrey Zvyagintsev.
As you might expect from an artistic tour de force such as this there are long, lingering and sweeping shots of the Russian landscape that are as beautiful as they are barren. Drawing obvious comparisons with last year’s Nebraska some of the finest moments are the quiet ones where your eye is drawn into the distance at nothing in particular. The incredible direction invokes feelings of isolation, despair and distress, which match the whale bones on the beaches of the Russian fishing area of Kola.
This is an adaptation of the story of Job from The Bible, but placed in modern day Russia, with bureaucrats and Godless priests. It’s an incredibly subversive film to escape from the pseudo-dictatorship of Russian politics. Perhaps selling it as a Bible adaptation did the trick, but it’s clear that no one in the ˜establishment’ saw the film, or if they did, they didn’t get it. It is subversive bordering on revolutionary as great art-under-pressure often is.
This is all the perfect setup for Aleksey Serebryakov’s central performance of an ordinary man pushed and beaten by bureaucracy and corruption, who threatens to lose everything in the name of his society and a Government more interested in personal gains than the safety of its residents.
There is a chance that the idea of ˜World Cinema’ i.e. non-English language is off-putting to mainstream Western audiences, and it’s a fair comment. ˜Films are meant to be watched, not read’ is the strongest argument, and one that this reviewer tends to agree with. But in the case of Leviathan to remake it in the English-language would remove the pure, unadulterated Russian-ness of it all. This is a film that deserves to be seen in its native language and through the careful eye of a truly talented director.
It’s not easy to watch, it’s not entertainment for entertainment’s sake and it’s every bit as gruelling a viewing experience as you would imagine. But what we have in Leviathan is a heart-breaking, staggering masterpiece in ill-named world cinema.