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Leviathan: masterpiece or bid to blacken Russia and please the West?

January 16, 2015, 16:24 UTC+3 Alexandrova Lyudmila
A scene from the film Leviathan

A scene from the film Leviathan

© AP Photo/Sony Pictures Classics, Anna Matveeva

MOSCOW, January 16. /TASS/. Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev's movie "Leviathan," which was nominated for the Academy Awards best foreign-language film on Thursday, has triggered a wave of controversy in its homeland. "Leviathan," which became the second-ever Russian film to win a Golden Globe and took a number of other international awards, will be released in Russia in February.

The movie, a modern interpretation of the Book of Job, is set on a peninsula by the Barents Sea and tells the story of a man struggling against a corrupt local mayor.

Some Russians have already watched pirated copies of "Leviathan" but most people joined the movie discussion without watching it. Opinion on the film is totally divided.

Some compare Zvyagintsev with prominent Soviet filmmaker Andrey Tarkovsky and praise the movie, while others call him an opportunist and accuse him of blackening the image of modern Russia.

"Leviathan," which is full of criticism of Russian reality, has been called Russophobic by some viewers and patriotic by others.

According to some media reports, authorities of the Murmansk region, where “Leviathan” was filmed, have decided to ban the movie, which portrays their region in a negative light. However, the Murmansk government denied any official ban.

A number of experts also bombarded “Leviathan” with criticism. The so-called Association of Orthodox Experts has demanded a ban on the Oscar contender.

The association’s founder, Kirill Frolov, slammed the movie as “foul slander against the Russian church and Russian state”.

Sergey Markov, a member of the Russian Civic Chamber, said “Leviathan” was “an anti-Russian political order” with “a strong anti-Orthodox accent”.

Izvestia daily quoted Valentin Lebedev, chairman of the Union of Orthodox Citizens, as saying that “Leviathan” was a “gore” film and, therefore, garnered numerous international awards amid tensions between Russia and the West.

Meanwhile, well-known film critic Andrey Plakhov said he did not consider Zvyagintsev’s movie anti-Russian. “Tarkovsky’s films were not anti-Soviet either. Cinematography of this kind exists in a different system of coordinates,” Plakhov told Kommersant daily. He described “Leviathan” as an epic film, which had no equals in modern Russian filmmaking.

Andrey Zvyagintsev himself says “Leviathan” should not be politicized. He told the Dozhd TV channel that foreign viewers often recognized themselves in the film’s characters.

Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky told Izvestia daily that the film was “a universal story that could have taken place in any part of the world, including Russia”.

“Do I see any Russian features in the film’s characters? I don’t,” the minister said. “No matter how much they swear and how much vodka they drink, this does not make them real Russians.”

Medinsky complained there were no positive characters in “Leviathan.” "It's more or less clear what and whom Zvyagintsev hates. But whom does he love?” the minister asked.

Prominent Russian filmmaker Andrey Konchalovsky also said he saw no love in the film, which, however, deserved its awards.

“The film is very strong… but I want to understand whom he [Zvyagintsev] loves, I seek and cannot find. Loving is hard. And taking love on screen is even harder,” Konchalovsky told Ekho Moskvy radio.

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