IF YOU LIKE movies that manage to be both sad and unfeeling, you'll love Leviathan, a film that's so unrelentingly bleak it's almost comical. Kolya (Aleksey Serebryakov), a mechanic in a small, economically depressed Russian fishing village, finds out the local authorities want to seize his house. Meanwhile, his friends have some questionable ideas about mixing heavy drinking with heavy artillery around children, and his long-suffering wife, Lilya (Elena Lyadova), works in a fish-gutting factory and never smiles, probably because Kolya is the worst, and his even worse son (from a previous marriage) hates her. Yeah, this is not going to end well.
I didn't love Leviathan, nor did I find it to be the takedown of Russian bureaucracy it was promised to be. The reason? Kolya is many things—a deadbeat dad, maybe 80 percent vodka, and a terrible, abusive husband—but a compelling, everymannish antihero he is not. When Kolya's (empty) house gets bulldozed at the film's end, I was kind of rooting for the bulldozer. I do not think I was supposed to be rooting for the bulldozer, but it had more human warmth and personality than Kolya.
You've been warned: Leviathan leaves a lot to be desired. It's also gorgeous. The whole thing is a sweeping color study of blues and grays, with wide shots of vast, cold environments, including repeated shots of a hulking whale skeleton on a desolate beach and wrecked boats forever stranded just off the shoreline. If you skipped the subtitles, and just followed the appearance of the color blue and the changing light in every scene, I don't think you'd miss much. In fact, I kind of wish I'd done this, because, unlike Kolya himself, the scenery alone is worth the price of admission.