Where we come from defines us more than we even realize: That's the idea implicit in Andrey Zvyagintsev's somber, sturdily elegant drama Leviathan, in which a mechanic who has lived on the same parcel of land all his life — as his father and grandfather did before him -- resists being forced out by his town's corrupt mayor.
Kolia (Alexeï Serebriakov) resides with his young wife, Lilya (Elena Liadova), and son Roma (Sergueï Pokhodaev) in a simple but striking house overlooking the Barents Sea in Russia's far north. Seemingly out of nothing but greed and spitefulness, the town's mayor, Vadim Shelevyat (Roman Madianov), has long been angling to seize Kolia's land for himself, and he's just about succeeded: Kolia's lawyer friend Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovitchenkov) has come up from Moscow to mount a last-ditch effort to block Vadim's efforts, but the future is looking grim. Kolia is drinking way too much, Roma has become sullen and isn't doing well in school, and Lilya seems to be drawing away from her husband, even as he's on the brink of losing everything. In short, bureaucracy has ruined his life.
But Kolia hasn't lost hope, and his determination is the solid, steady mechanism that keeps Leviathan moving. The film -- which took the best-screenplay prize at Cannes earlier this year -- may be steeped in despair, but it's not a heavy-handed sermon. Its heart and soul is Serebriakov's Kolia, who carries deep sorrow in his eyes and on his shoulders, even as he fends off defeat for longer than you'd imagine possible.