It comes as no surprise to learn that the Russian establishment has, ahead of the film’s theatrical release, publicly slammed its Oscar nominee and Golden Globe winner “Leviathan.” Andrey Zvyagintsev’s tough, theatrical drama reconfigures the Book of Job into a damning indictment of the Putin presidential government, while also yielding more universal themes of humanity, corruption and, well, yes, alcoholism.
Culture minister Vladimir Medinsky, whose ministry partly funded this politically charged fable that officially opens in Russia on February 5 but has leaked online, told the Izvestia newspaper that the portrayal of the Russian Orthodox Church was “beyond all limits” (per The Guardian) a wildly inaccurate representation. “However much the authors made the characters swear and swig litres of vodka, they are not Russians,” he said. “I did not recognise myself, my colleagues, friends or even friends of friends in ‘Leviathan’’s characters.”
If you’ve seen the film, you know that it centers on a Russian everyman whose home and family are crushed by an imperious, almost comically weak but politically powerful, and power-abusing, autocratic mayor (pictured above). Medinsky criticized the film’s “existential despair.” (Has he read anything of the canon of Russian literature?)
More pro-Kremlin politicos and Russian authorities have spoken out against the film. As translated by producer Alexander Rodnyansky’s team, here’s what Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation member Sergey Markov said: “The film demonstrates that the life of Russians is so horrible that it seems like taking it [killing Russians] is not such a big sin after all. So it seems that the films shows dehumanization of Russians and as such is an ideological foundation for the genocide of the Russian nation. If I was Zvyagintsev, I would’ve canceled the release myself, came to the Red Square and on my knees asked the Russian nation to forgive me.”
“In the current political climate this film is, to my mind, frankly speaking, antinational,” said leader of the Russian Communist Party Gennady Zyuganov.
“’Leviathan’ is evil and evil has no place in Russia’s theatres. We ask the Ministry of Culture not to allow this film to be screened,” said Kirill Frolov, a pro-Kremlin Christian activist.
“The government has to ask for its money back from this director who seems to have forgotten that his client and his viewer is Russia and not the US or Stepan Bandera’s friends,” said Russian politician and St. Petersburg Legislative Assembly member Vitaly Milonov in an open letter to Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev. “We cannot allow such films which besmirch our history, our tradition and our culture, to be made and of course to be distributed in theaters.”
Even State deputy Michail Dyagterev, of the Liberal Democratic Party, called “Leviathan” “russophobic,” saying its “power is much stronger than any American nuclear bomb.”
An open letter by the civic leaders and Orthodox priests and bishops of Samara to the Minister of Culture demanded that the actor who plays the bishop in the film, Valery Grishko, be fired from his position in the state-sponsored theater. The “image created by this actor is a cynical and dirty parody on Russian orthodox bishops, it offends the believers and in its essence is nothing else other than blatant mockery of Russian State and the principal religious confession of our country — The Holy Orthodoxy.”
Zvyagintsev, perhaps the most important filmmaker working in Russia today, is obviously disappointed by the reaction–but going into “Leviathan,” as he explained backstage at the Golden Globes, he knew he was making a “contradictory” movie, and had to show 30 members of the Russian Oscar committee that his film was the right choice, and they came through. Producer Rodnyansky, after accepting the Golden Globe alongside the director earlier this month, noted that “We had great support from Russian press,” and he was prepared for controversy either way.
But the “Leviathan” Russians will see next month will not be his intended director’s cut. Soviet-era censorship still rules the day. Swearing will be dubbed in the film, and according to a new law, any dialogue that contravenes the law could be censored. “What a surprise!” said absolutely no one.