Oscar-nominated Leviathan under renewed attack as Culture Minister dubs film “anti-Russian”

Oscar-nominated Leviathan under renewed attack as Culture Minister dubs film "anti-Russian"
Still from Leviathan

15 January 2015

Andrey Zvyagintsev’s latest film Leviathan has been nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category, it was announced today. But Russia’s Minister of Culture Vladimir Medinsky has slammed the film as “anti-Russian”, in the latest example of mounting opposition against it from the Russian authorities. In an interview with Izvestia, Medinsky stressed the universality of the film, noting that the film’s plot “is a universal one that could take place anywhere in the world”.

“Do I think the film is anti-Russian? Yes, it does not seem to me to be purely a Russian story … except in the sense that it was shot in a fishing village in the Murmansk Region,” Medinsky told Izvestia. “Do I see a certain Russianness in the heroes of the movie? No, I don’t.”

The issue over the film’s universality has often cropped up in discussion of the movie, with critics divided over whether the film’s central plot — handiman Kolya’s attempt to resist a corrupt local mayor from seizing his land — is specific to life in Russia or a tale of human suffering that might unfold anywhere.

“No matter how much the author of the film forces them to swear and drink litres of vodka, today’s Russians don’t actually do this,” Medinsky said.

The backlash over the film has been as much about politics as religion, with accusations over Leviathan’s portrayal of the close relationship between the Russian Orthodox Church and Russia’s ruling elite sparking outrage from the Church, which today lodged a request to have the film stripped of its distribution certificate.

Kirill Frolov, head of the Association of Orthodox Experts, told Izvestia: “I would not be ashamed of the fact that our organisation is being accused of violating freedom. We do not have to justify this to anyone. Leviathan is evil, and evil has no place at the box office.”

Just hours before today’s announcement that Leviathan has been nominated for an Oscar, cinemas in Russia’s northern Murmansk region — the setting of Zvyagintsev’s film — were banned from screening Leviathan over the governor’s “dissatisfaction over how the film depicts people living in the north”, Flashnord reported.