It’s not like I was expecting Mr. Smith Goes To Washington from the Oscar-nominated Russian movie Leviathan (левиафан for those of you with your Cyrillic goggles on), but I was sort of expecting something a little more akin to Twelve, where layers of self-interest are peeled back and a perverse outcome is arrived at as the best solution for the screwed-up world Russians live in.

But no: Leviathan is utterly bleak. There is no hope. Hope is mocked.

We liked it.

When the story opens, Kolia is talking with pal Dimi about an upcoming hearing: The Mayor has decided to take over his land, and Kolia is resistant, given that he built the house on his land and runs his business there, and The Mayor is offering him about 1/6th of what he considers fair value.

My capsule from the trailer was “Russian guy doesn’t know he’s living in Russia”. But, whatever, Kolia seems to think he has property rights, and so he and Dimi have a scheme to extort the mayor so he can keep his place or at least get a good price for it.

At the only point where it looks like Kolia might have a chance, the story is instantly derailed with a melodrama involving Lilya, Kolia’s pretty young wife. In fact, I started to get a little annoyed with the movie, thinking it had gone off base with this story, but it all ties together in the most horrible, cynical way imaginable.

There are no heroes in this story: Everyone knows what’s going on. They’re apathetic or complicit (or both). There’s cowardice and betrayal. Faint glimmers of decency are swallowed almost as quickly as they appear.

One’s soul cries out for a theme, a metaphor, or an understanding of some kind here, and Leviathan seems to tell us that in this modern reinterpretation of Job, the state is God, the Enemy and the Leviathan.

The ending is so dark, it makes you think Russia should be burned down and paved over with something nice, like Hell.

Beautifully shot, compellingly acted, and soul-crushingly realistic, Leviathan is a fine film I wouldn’t recommend easily to anyone.

And I in no way feel smug about living in America, where this kind of thing happens all the time, and gets not so much as a mention in the papers.

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