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Cannes: Palme d'Or Contender 'Leviathan' Gets Gargantuan Reaction from Critics

Photo of Beth Hanna By Beth Hanna | Thompson on Hollywood May 23, 2014 at 12:36PM

Critics are going crazy for Russian helmer Andrey Zvyagintsev's latest, "Leviathan," which played in competition at Cannes and now looks to be a serious contender for the prized Palme d'Or. Zvyagintsev knocked it out of the park with 2011's meditation on one family's legacy of crime, "Elena," and this new film again returns to the terrain of social critique, but by loosely retelling the Book of Job.
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'Leviathan'
'Leviathan'

Critics are going crazy for Russian helmer Andrey Zvyagintsev's latest, "Leviathan," which played in competition at Cannes and now looks to be a serious contender for the prized Palme d'Or. Zvyagintsev knocked it out of the park with 2011's meditation on one family's legacy of crime, "Elena," and this new film again returns to the terrain of social critique, but by loosely retelling the Book of Job.

The 140-minute epic follows a small-town mechanic (Alexei Serebriakov) who becomes embroiled in a legal dispute with the local mayor -- an ordeal that could lose him his house and surrounding property -- and a serious crisis of faith sets in.

No stateside distributor yet, but you can bet they're clamoring. Review roundup, below.

Hollywood Reporter:

Huge monsters of the deep move under the surface of this powerful, craftily allusive and elusive film, the director’s best and most courageous so far.

Guardian:

Andrei Zvyagintsev's latest is a very strong contender for the Palme d'Or – a mix of Hobbes, Chekhov and the Bible, and full of extraordinary images and magnificent symmetry... A new Russian masterpiece.

Variety:

In “Leviathan,” which director Andrey Zvyagintsev has described as a loose retelling of the Book of Job, an ordinary man must wrestle with his faith not in God but in the Russian state — an epic struggle against a monster with many faces possessed of the capacity to bend the law to suit its own appetites. Resistance is futile, as they say, and yet this stunning satire’s embattled patriarch valiantly perseveres for the sake of his family, even as it crumbles around him. Debuting in competition at Cannes, this engrossing, arthouse-bound opus spans a meaty 142 minutes and unfolds with the heft of a 1,000-page novel.

Indiewire, in an A+ review:

From the two boys at the mercy of their demanding father in "The Return," to the elderly working class woman in "Elena" driven to crime for the sake of her son's finances, Zvyagintsev has assailed Russian society from the inside out. But none of his preceding features reaches the heights of dark, probing inquiry on display in his beautifully layered epic "Leviathan," a tragedy of biblical proportions in which fear and disillusionment are more central than the plot itself, and only the heartless people in power can find gratification.

Playlist:

If there was ever any doubt as to Zvyagintsev's position as one of world cinema's foremost auteurs, it's put to rest here. His filmmaking has always been superb, but he's never taken on the state of his nation in the way he does here. And that makes "Leviathan" not just masterful but also hugely important.

CineVue:

Returning to Cannes this year (Elena was in the Un Certain Regard strand in 2011), Zvyagintsev's latest is a powerful and compelling retelling of the biblical Book of Job, transplanted to a small town in Russia. Kolia (Alexei Serebriakov) is a mechanic who's gotten himself mixed up in a legal dispute with the town's powerful major, which could see him lose his house and his land. Kolia is no angel, however; he's a veritable hothead who likes his vodka, is quick to lash out at others and constantly complains about his perceived lot in life.


This article is related to: Reviews, Reviews, Cannes Film Festival, Cannes, Andrey Zvyagintsev


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Thompson on Hollywood

Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.