Oscar nominee ‘Leviathan’ splits Russian society

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Russia In Review

The new Russian movie Leviathan by Andrei Zvyagintsev has received very mixed reviews among Russian critics and ordinary citizens. The film has already earned the Best Screenplay Award at Cannes, a Golden Globe, and a Oscar nomination for Best Foreign-Language Film. However, in Russia there have been calls to ban its distribution, claiming that the film is “anti-Russian and anti-Christian” in nature. 

The movie’s subtext involves the biblical story of Job and the monster Leviathan. Critics say that it is clear that the analog of the monster in this film is the Russian state and the ruling elite, which is supported by the Russian Orthodox-Christian Church.

It was quite predictable that the leader of the factions that did not welcome the film would become the country’s Culture Minister. Vladimir Medinskiy has criticized the picture for slander and opportunism, claiming that its portrait of modern Russia is dark, pessimistic and even ugly. He also feels the film has enjoyed success at international festivals because of its “Russophobe” style. 

According to Medinskiy, “If Zvyagintsev made the same movie about America, there would no prize in Cannes, and potentially the film would not exist at all.” He also claims that in real life there are no Russian people who drink vodka as much as the characters in Leviathan do.

At the same time, director Zvyagintsev has admitted that he is glad about the public debate around the film. But he does admit to being upset by the numerous criticisms. He called on Russian society to “not listen to others, and [show some] intellectual detachment.” 

"It seems that we [Russian society] today are in some state of herd which is rushing to the place somebody indicated for us, and we do not have our own critical reflective device. So it is impossible for us to see the movie by ourselves and make our own judgment which would be independent of any ideologies.”

Directors Call for Return of Swear Words

Russian federal authorities may cancel the ban on swearing in movies, following the request of the country’s film directors, who claimed that after the implementing of the new law, “it’s become almost impossible to make dialogue between [characters in films], especially bad guys, which would [sound] realistic.”

The request has headed to Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev and has been signed by several dozen of the country’s film directors, including Nikita Mikhalkov, Karen Shakhnazarov and Fyodor Bondarchuk.

The country’s Ministry of Culture argued against the cancellation of the law, but the issue has spurred a massive public outcry, and there have even been created a number of public organizations demanding the end of the law. 

Pundits say that in general the experiment with banning swear words in Russian movies was not very successful. “It made part of the dialogue in movies absolutely unrealistic, which obviously did not improve the popularity of Russian movies in the domestic market,” stated Russian movie expert Phillip Chernikov. “And given the fact that the popularity and box office of Russian movies is a crucial issue for the authorities, we expect that the law will be amended and at least there will be made some exceptions.”

Ministry of Culture Eyes Hollywood Release Dates

The Russian Ministry of Culture has asserted the right to move the release dates of Hollywood films in order to improve the box office of Russian movies, according to Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinskiy

The representatives of the Ministry explained that if the release of an “important” Russian film and a foreign film of the same genre are scheduled for the same day, the foreign film may not receive the so-called rolling certificate—the paper which is necessary for launching the distribution of a film.

At the same time, authorities promise to use the ability to move release dates selectively. "We are only interested in releases of Russian films produced with the financial participation of the State. It is important that they have a chance for good box office. We will not fight for every film, but we will use some sort of priorities: financial, political or ideological."

Most distributors in Russia believe that any attempt to regulate the official date of releases will only harm the market and that such things should be governed only by the industry itself.

At the same time, some market participants say that in general the new decision will not seriously affect foreign films. Among them is Oleg Berezin, general director of Neva Film (a company also engaged in distribution of foreign films).

Russian film producer Alexander Rodnyanskii observes, "Distributors already now look carefully at the big releases of Russian films and try not to enter any movies in direct competition with them. The cinemas quickly react to box office of high-quality movies, regardless of whether they are Russian or not, and give them the best sessions and dates.”