February 12-14, RPL film theatre
3 out of 5

Vladimir Putin’s government may not be as openly against freedom in all its forms as were the Soviet regimes of yesteryear, but the current Russian establishment sure likes asserting control in all sorts of nefarious ways — like jailing adversaries on trumped-up charges (hello, Pussy Riot), or banning “unbecoming” behaviour (i.e. homosexuality).

So I can only imagine how shocked and dismayed Putin and his flunkies were to discover that a movie they helped finance (and which is now nominated for an Oscar) would become a massive thorn in their side. Leviathan explores the matter of widespread corruption in Russia, and its effect on the population as a whole, through the smallest of microcosms.

In a coastal town in northwest Russia, an impoverished mechanic named Nikolai finds himself fighting a corrupt mayor and the establishment as a whole to keep his home. His home is valuable because it’s in a great location with a stunning view, but (at least in theory) the law is on Nikolai’s side. He recruits a former comrade-in-arms-turned-big-city-lawyer to help with the case, unaware of the effect the outsider’s presence could have on his much younger wife.

Along with a compelling story and strong characters (none of them are particularly likeable, but they’re all well-written), Leviathan depicts life at a dead end: from Nikolai’s teenage son to the town mayor, nearly everybody on screen has self-destructive tendencies and must rely heavily on vodka to endure. (A family picnic involving alcohol, guns and kids is particularly harrowing.) The slow pace of the movie is the only real negative here, but a hearty cup of coffee should get you through. It’s worth the effort.