Winner - Best Foreign Language Film - 2014 Golden Globes

First feted for his striking 2003 debut The Return, and celebrated since for The Banishment and Elena, Andrey Zvyagintsev is a director of heavyweight gifts, whose films are distinguished by both their visual beauty and their narrative ambition. This latest feature, a prize winner at the 2014 Cannes and London film festivals, references nothing less than the Book of Job, in which God puts a good man through dreadful suffering.

Poster art for LeviathanOur protagonist is Kolya (Aleksei Serebryakov), who’s blessed with a beautiful wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova), a healthy son Roma (Sergey Pokhodaev) and a fine home, but must, as the film goes on, contend with threats to all of them. His tormentors are cruel fate, fickle human hearts and the might of the Russian state; his most constant friend is the vodka haze that sees him through it all.

Sound a bit bleak? Well, it’s no cheery rom-com, but neither is it a slog. In fact, its beauty, intensity and intelligence make Leviathan oddly uplifting despite a largely solemn emotional climate and some heart-tugging content. Zvyagintsev has an extraordinary ability to infuse his storytelling with small mysteries and surprises, without seeming to withhold information or deploy manipulative twists. Even when the content is extreme enough to suit the most frenzied melodrama, there is a delicacy to the storytelling that precludes any sense of hysteria or empty hand-wringing.

He’s just a consummate filmmaker – one who knows how to use his medium to its fullest and most expressive extent, so that his stories always seem as if they could only ever have been movies, not stage plays or novels or tv shows or operas. And he is served here by a cast of actors who inhabit their parts with the same utter commitment and certainty of purpose. Brimming with emotion, unflinchingly tense, and often darkly, painfully funny, this is a film possessed of both classic sweep and sharp contemporary relevance.

– Hannah McGill, The List

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