The Russian drama “Leviathan” has received international acclaim, including a Golden Globe win and BAFTA and Oscar nominations for Best Foreign Language Film, but now Russian minister of culture Vladimir Medinsky is fighting the film, calling it “anti-Russian” and accusing director Andrey Zvyagintsev of caring only about “glory, red carpets, and statuettes.”
“We were aware it was going to happen, that this kind of film would definitely polarize the audience, but we never expected such a radical polarization which this film has pushed in Russian society,” says Zvyagintsev. He recently spoke to Gold Derby along with “Leviathan” producer Alexander Rodnyansky, who also translated for the director (watch our complete chat below). “This is really radical. Right now, it would be described rather as an explosion than anything else.”
Rodnyansky adds, “There is not any single movie in Russia since probably Perestroika times which divided the society in any way like was done by ‘Leviathan’ right now.” The political opposition has taken an extreme stance, including a “Russian statesman who offered us to ask for forgiveness from Russian people kneeling on the Red Square.”
The film tells the story of a small-town Russian man (Aleksei Serebryakov) being forced off of his land by a corrupt mayor (Roman Madyanov) conspiring with the Orthodox Church. But despite the Russian setting, the filmmakers believe it’s a universal story: “This is very much a common experience: the conflict, the idea of confrontation between the individual human being and this kind of indifferent giant … A Mexican gentleman said, ‘If not vodka but tequila, if not snow but heat, you have a Mexican story.’ We’ve spoken to an Italian lady who said, ‘If not Russian Orthodox Church but Catholic Church, it is very much about Italy’ … the story needs no explanation anywhere.”
And the international attention is especially important to the filmmakers given the controversy back home. They agree that “[the Oscar] is the most important award for filmmakers and especially filmmakers living very far away from the capitol of the film industry like Los Angeles, but it’s important also because it … makes the audience, especially in Russia, makes them see this movie, discuss it, argue about it, makes them feel bad or good, makes them actually hate this movie or love it, and express themselves as a people of different discussions. We believe this is the most important issue.”
In addition to promoting an open dialogue in Russia, Zvyagintsev hopes the success of “Leviathan” will prompt young filmmakers in the country “to make the movies which look at the beginning radical, experimental, honest … definitely makes them more brave.”
Will the Oscars follow the Golden Globes’ lead by awarding “Leviathan” as Best Foreign Language Film? Watch our complete interview below, then use our drag-and-drop menu to make your predictions, or click here to enter your picks in all Oscar races.