Home By Marquel Leviathan Does not Believe in Tears

Leviathan Does not Believe in Tears

Marquel, TPVs NYTimes Movies We’ve Never Seen But Reviewed Section correspondent, was taking a nap when he dreamed he read Russian Movie ‘Leviathan’ Gets Applause in Hollywood but Scorn at Home.

Burnt_by_the_Sun_PosterThe film has admirers and won a Golden Globe, but some Russian detractors want it banned and accuse its director of acting under Western orders.Marquel hasn’t seen the movie, but he had seen a perfectly awful Russian film in the 90’s, “Burnt By The Sun,” a film that won the Oscar for best foreign film, but so heavy handed in its acting and directing, that it felt more than fair to review Leviathan without walking into the theater.He did, however have a giant popcorn by his side as he imagined the film, and a frozen cherry coke which served as an approximation of an Icee®.

The film, a thinly disguised biography of Vladimir Putin, takes place in Russia’s version of Podunk during the time of Stalin. The residents of Podunk, where the film was actually made, are all pictured as drunk. Russians have complained that everybody in Podunk is portrayed as drunk and swearing. It is terribly unfair, as depicted in the film, but in fact everybody in the town is dead drunk 24/7. They are also portrayed as swearing continuously. This too is unfair, because in Podunk, as in all of Russia, people stop swearing to drink their vodka.

In Leviathan, the Podunkians do not stop when they drink, and it seemed unrealistic. One scene, shot in the maternity ward of Podunk‘s hospital showed two newborns clutching vodka miniatures and alternately swigging and  cursing. It also showed a nurse sipping from one, setting off an infant tirade of Russian swears.

As I say, this seemed to rupture the movies credibility, but we are quickly introduced to Nitup, an eleven year old resident of the local asylum for retarded children. He is told they have to move because the building has been condemned. Nitup learns that the building is to become the mansion of one of Moscow’s oligarchs.


Nitup didn’t literally learn this, because he is retarded and doesn’t know anything. In fact, he believed the building is being turned into an aviary and travels to Moscow to have the decision reversed.

There is a tearful scene when Nitup takes leave of his friends, but he is soon seen in Moscow in front of a government building, where he is arrested by the KGB. It is the time of Stalin, and the two KBG agents are, of course, dead drunk. Nitup is arrested for public drunkenness, and the three then show up mysteriously at the ballet where they watch a complete play that they entirely misunderstand. Nitup takes it as a sign that the aviary will not succeed. He is eventually jailed, but in high spirits, a typically Russian scene.

The middle of the movie shows Nitup’s meteoric rise in the KGB, which hires him, unaware of his mental chaos. He is shown working out, going on spy missions, and practicing kick boxing, which he does with kangaroos, and develops a reputation as a fierce martial arts expert, and master of wild animals.

But Nitup is, unfortunately, severely retarded. He frequently bites his hands and clothing and just as frequently takes his shirt off for no apparent reason. This kind of irrational behavior is accepted in Moscow as the norm, and he is soon being groomed for political office. The Russian society columns portray him as the sort of person anyone would like to have some vodka with.

Events in Russia move quickly. Yeltsin appears very briefly, and shown, in the most unbelievable scene, turning down a glass of vodka because he’s “full.”

Soon, Nitup, fully grown, a colonel in the KGB and still unable to write his name, as is of course true of all KGB agents, calls the orphanage, finds it has in fact become an aviary, but employs all of his old retarded friends as zookeepers. He tells them to all come to Moscow and join him.

Nitup is elected president because his mumbling means different things to different people. His friends become functionaries in the government, or wealthy oligarchs, which Nitup still believes has something to do with birds.

The corruption of the government and the oligarchy is well displayed, and Nitup’s friends get together to give the old orphanage to Nitup as a present. The sight of 35 retarded Russians trying to buy the orphanage, now an aviary without any zookeepers, is funnier than it is credible, but Nitup’s trip back home is touching.

The birds, without keepers for several years, have taken over the building, a nice variation to the phrase “the inmates have taken over the asylum,” and serves as a nice critique but also target for Russian critics to pan the movie.

The end shows Nitup trying to accept his gift, but unable to enter because of the wild birds, some larger than ostriches. Nitup takes off his shirt, and in a representation of a three hour scene of hand to hand combat, succeeds in disabling all the avians, as well as a bear and tiger who had taken up residence.

The closing scene, which shows the entire town, dead drunk, with an even drunker Nitup on their shoulders, holding what now is his pet ostrich, itself drunk and swearing, is only disturbed by the setting Russian sun, a clip obviously stolen from the last Russian movie to win the Oscar for best foreign film.

I would give this film two bottles of vodka and a cup of borscht, which amounts to something halfway between one star and the Russian sun.

By MARQUEL: Leviathan Does not Believe in Tears


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