Leviathan ★★★½

A land dispute between a working man and the state sets out the framework for a heavyweight look at modern day Russia. Heavily layered with religion, politics and corruption that appears to be rife in the country, director Andrey Zvyagintsev presents a damning indictment of his motherland. The larger parable at work is based on The Book of Job, a question thrown to God as to why the righteous must suffer.

The opening scenes are sombre in tone, drifting across the forgotten shoreline of Northwest Russia. Dilapidated frameworks of forgotten ships haunt the waters edge under a silver blue sky, pierced by the rocky, barren hilltops. From this position the mood stubbornly refuses to shift, choosing instead to gradually descend and intensify the pressure onto the poor souls below. As the minutes pass by the bleak outlook tightens it grip until only dark clouds remain in sight.

Kolia is the man facing up to the prospect of losing his home, land and business to the unscrupulous town mayor who wishes to build commerce in its place. Dimitri, a lawyer from Russia and good friend of Kolia, may be able to balance the scales of justice after the court predictably rule in the mayors favour. The town they live in is small and the network of authority is tightly woven together. Whoever holds the might will dictate the power.

Clearly this is a commentary on the state of modern Russia, critiquing the hypocrisy of a religion used as tool to give reasons for the corrupt methods heavily employed. Corruption interconnects from state to state in Zvyagintsev's world, although it is not only the custodians of the law we see fall victim. The erosion of friendship through immoral deception proves to be equally as damaging.

At one point portraits of old Russian leaders are lined up for target practice, the suggestion being that from Putin to Lenin and earlier, little has changed. If the past is abhorrent and the future lacks hope then perhaps that is why it feels futile to reach out to care for these characters. Zvyagintsev sets the pacing, editing and photography to near perfection but the characters themselves seem to be overpowered by a relentless, predetermined atmosphere that sends them mournfully to their beleaguered fates.

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