A contemporary reworking of an older source often drifts into contrivance as the grander scheme bears heavy on the plot and such is the case with Andrei Zvyagintsev’s somber assault on post-Soviet Russia notwithstanding some outstanding moments along the way.


This is the retelling of Job’s suffering set in the back of beyond where a fishing village on the North Russian coast looks as cold as the Arctic Ocean and a tyrannical mayor is a Satan figure in cahoots with the Russian Orthodox Church.


An enormous whale skeleton lies on the beach, conjuring up images of the film title’s sea monster, which a simple car mechanic, Kolia, has to catch “with a fish-hook” as a cynical ungodly priest puts it.


And title’s blatant and sardonic secondary reference to Thomas Hobbes’ call for legitimate government in his masterpiece of the same name would have been enough to see the film banned in the not so distant past, but its submission as Russia’s official entry for a best foreign language film Oscar suggests that new Russia has prioritised reflective glory over anti-filmic ‘subversion’.


The plot – and Kolia’s loss, of course – starts with the simple premise that the mayor will stop at nothing to seize Kolia’s inherited property for his own expansive land development and follows a familiar patten, at least initially, when Kolia’s friend, a Moscow lawyer, arrives on the scene.


Things become more complicated as the State, Church and the individual intersect around an abuse of power and a deceit that’s rooted in both history and the recent change; a new lawlessness that takes the worst of the East and the West.


Superb performances avoid caricature or character types with Roman Madyanov as the standout as the mayor unable to conceal his vulnerabilities.


And the drama is engaging and intense for three quarters of the film but a Dostoyevskian despair and copious Vodka drinking – laying on the analogy too thick – eventually overpower it; a pity.

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January 1st, 2015 - admin

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