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Russian film critics and industry insiders expressed their disappointed Monday that Andrey Zvyagintsev‘s Leviathan failed to repeat its Golden Globes success at Sunday’s Academy Awards.
Hopes had been high in the country that the controversial film, which has divided Russian society with its portrayal of a simple man’s life destroyed by greedy, corrupt government officials, would continue last month’s success, when it was honored with a Golden Globe for best foreign film by the Hollywood Foreign Press Association. A win on Sunday night would have repeated the double-whammy that Russia last scored in 1969 when Sergey Bondarchuk‘s epic War and Peace won both awards.
One Moscow-based sales agent told The Hollywood Reporter that as soon as Leviathan looked like it might win an Oscar, leading Russian officials, including culture minister Vladimir Medinsky, had cynically changed their positions from attacking the film to rooting for it.
On Saturday, president Vladimir Putin‘s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, had also come out in support of Leviathan. Peskov, who like his Kremlin boss had not previously commented on the film, admitted he had not seen the film, but said he would support it, condemning others who had attacked it as anti-Russian. Peskov is not known to express opinions without the support of Putin.
“The problem is not Peskov or Medinsky, but all the officials who do not have an opinion but change it depending on the views of trendsetters,” the sales agent, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said. “What surprises me even more is that during the severe attack [in Russia] on the film, no Russian Oscar committee member who voted for the film dared defend it and explain their decision. It shows that the intelligentsia is just as afraid as officials are. That makes me feel that here it is gloomy in all senses of the word.”
Academy Award members voted for Pawel Pawlikowski‘s hauntingly beautiful black-and-white film Ida, leaving Russian critics and commentators in soul-searching mode.
Andrey Plakhov, film critic for Russian newspaper Kommersant and president of international critics association FIPRESCI, also on Facebook, said: “The best films were pushed to the periphery – and not only Leviathan and Timbuktu, but also Boyhood, which only got an award for Patricia Arquette‘s supporting role. So what? An Oscar is a respect award, but it is not the highest court.”
Anton Dolin, film critic for Russian state news agency TASS, took a similar line, telling Russian news site Newsru.ru that this year’s Oscars were “a little surprising.” He added: “I would have preferred [for top film and best foreign-language] Boyhood and Leviathan, but Birdman and Ida are also good.”
Kirill Razlogov, a veteran festival programmer and professor at Russia’s top film school, VGIK, said that Ida’s win was “predictable and not related to politics.”
“The best foreign-language film category is known in the U.S as a ‘senior citizens’ award as [older voters] are more likely to empathize with films associated with the analysis of the past and that are stylistically pure, rather than the violent passions of Leviathan,” he said according to Russian media reports. “The Oscar nomination in itself is a victory, so to speak maliciously as some of my colleagues have and link it to politics is not necessary.”
Levithan’s director, Andrey Zvyagintsev, who had been in Los Angeles for Sunday’s ceremony, could not be reached for comment, but in an interview with Russian radio station Ekho Moskvy, he said there had been concern that the film would not find enough support from Academy voters.
Mikhail Shvydkoi, the Russian president’s special envoy for international cultural cooperation and the only senior government official to comment on the issue, was quoted by RIA Novosti news agency as saying that the fact that Leviathan didn’t win the Oscar is actually good.
“At least, there will be no speculation like “the Americans are bad, they hate Russians, so they awarded a film that is critical of Russian life,”” he said.
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