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New Left Review 100, July-August 2016

tony wood


The Films of Andrei Zvyagintsev

In a rocky, unpeopled landscape in the far northwest of Russia, where the Kola Peninsula juts into the Arctic Circle, a small group is celebrating a friend’s birthday by taking drunken potshots at a row of empty bottles. After one of the group machine-guns the bottles away, someone produces a new set of targets: a bundle of portraits of the country’s former leaders. We see framed photographs of Brezhnev, Lenin, Gorbachev (though not Stalin), and hear giggles off-screen. ‘Got anyone more current?’, asks Kolya, the film’s main character. ‘It’s too early for the current ones’, replies Stepanych, a local traffic cop: ‘Not enough of a historical perspective. Let them ripen up on the wall a bit.’ The exchange occurs halfway through Leviafan (Leviathan, 2014), Andrei Zvyagintsev’s fourth film. An unsparing condemnation of the everyday corruption and brutality of power in provincial Russia, it follows Kolya Sergeev’s attempts to resist eviction from his house on the orders of the local mayor, pitting an isolated individual against a state system geared mainly to protecting its own. There is a deliberate, perhaps tactical, ambiguity in the dialogue about the portraits, which on the one hand avoids putting Russia’s current rulers before the symbolic firing squad; on the other hand, it doesn’t guarantee them immunity: their time will eventually come.

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