Saturday, 18 October 2014


By and large, the boundaries between Greek tragedy, social satire and soap opera are thin and difficult to define, often set more by the tone of the project, rather than the content. Andrey Zvyagintsev is brave to utilise elements from all three dramatic genres in total earnest, even if his inevitably sharp cinematic intuition leads one to opine that his intentions in so doing were wholly self-aware. Leviathan is his most unambiguous essay on the modern human condition yet, so brilliantly represented, as ever, by the uncivilised citizens of a supposedly civilised country, his native Russia. The film is obvious, but always on target in its excoriating tirade against our own species, the ludicrous means to which we go to justify how viciously we abuse each other. These machines are rigged not only to reward the undeserving but to punish the victims in society, and Zvyagintsev observes no visible means by which to take said machine out. People of an overpopulated world end up as detritus on the beach, indistinguishable from the sand and rocks; their oppressors and murderers exploit that machine, that leviathan, to maximum advantage. If it seems ridiculous, objectively, the numerous stages of degradation which these innocent characters must undergo all make total sense within the film, its grandeur excusing all, its allegorical purpose excusing all, its position as Greek tragedy, or social satire, or soap opera excusing all, its humour excusing all. Equally unambiguous about Leviathan is its straightforward, honest humour. Zvyagintsev does not imply that we ought not to cry or despair, he just forces us to laugh through it. His comic touch is even more effortless than his flair for high drama, though its lasting impact is less.