Thirty years later, Zvyagintsev refutes Sting’s claim that the Russians love their children too. Boris (Aleksey Rozin of Leviathan and Elena) and Zhenya may or may not have ever loved each other, or their son, are just trying to sell their apartment so they can move on with their lives. Boris is now with pregnant Masha, mom dating a balding dude with a grown daughter who looks a bit like mom. After the parents argue over who gets their 12-year-old son (neither wants him, so mom suggests boarding school then the army), he runs away and is never seen again. The police suggest that runaways almost always return to their warm homes, but the police don’t know what this kid overheard.
Set mostly in fall 2012 before cutting to the more recent past, for symbolic and political reasons that I’m not keen on looking into. Creeping, controlled camera moves and an overall sense that all hope is lost, that nothing will ever be good again. I suppose I liked this even better than Leviathan. Premiered at Cannes, now the eighth competition title I’ve seen from last year – that’s out of nineteen, but some (Redoubtable, Rodin, Jupiter’s Moon) I’m not trying to catch up with.
Third movie called Leviathan I’ve seen, and another has just been announced. First Andrey Z. movie I’ve seen since The Return, and this was less mystical and mysterious than I’d expected from that one. But there’s still room for ambiguity in this generally straightforward story of a family’s obliteration by greedy, corrupt government officials as well as typical relationship drama. Wonderful looking movie, making the fact that it’s relentlessly grim easier to take.
Lilya (Elena Lyadova of Andrey Z.’s Elena) is Kolya’s second wife, after the death of his first. She and Kolya seem happy, but his sullen teenage son isn’t taking the replacement mom very well, and she is obviously more attracted to Kolya’s visiting military buddy Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovichenkov of Paragraph 78), a lawyer helping try to save the family’s land, home and business from being taken by the city (to “build a town hall” according to court statements, but actually to build a lake house for friends of the mayor (Roman Madyanov of the recent Russian 12 Angry Men remake)). Dmitri’s a good lawyer and investigator, arrives with a folder full of mayor-incriminating documents in order to get a fair price for the property, but then he has a Very Bad Day, getting caught and beaten up by his friend for having sex with his wife while on a picnic trip, then getting kidnapped, beaten again and nearly murdered by the mayor’s thugs. So he straight-up ditches town, returns to the city without telling anyone, and sad Lilya stands atop a rocky cliff, then is washed up dead the following day. Kolya is sent away for murder, mayor has the house demolished and the son is adopted by neighbors. Supposedly Lilya’s murder weapon is discovered by investigators on the property, but the whole justice system has been proven to be corrupt, so we never know if Kolya really killed her (unlikely), if the son did it (he’s shown being extremely bothered by her, but the movie never suggests he’s psycho enough to kill his stepmom), if it was government thugs, or if they’re taking advantage of a conveniently-timed suicide.
Also within: the church collaborates on the corruption deals, and an absolute ton of vodka is consumed. Won best screenplay at Cannes, nominated for a foreign oscar alongside Ida and Timbuktu. In a January interview, Andrey Z says he has four new screenplays and his producer is deciding which to film next. He’s also encouraging piracy of this film within Russia since its profane dialogue has been censored in theaters. On politics: “There is discussion in society, but it’s pointless. I have a feeling of the absolute futility of pretending to the right to have a say in any situation.”
Leviathan itself feels like a brave, lonely act of rebellion against the system, deeply pessimistic about the possibility of it ever working in the people’s favor. It advocates for a stiff drink.