Muted Version of 'Leviathan' Film Will Get Russia Release Thursday

Best Foreign-Language Film

Leviathan (Russia) (WINNER)
Force Majeure (Sweden)
Gett: The Trial of Viviane Amsalem (France)
Ida (Poland)
Tangerines (Estonia)

Producers say 650 copies will open in theaters with swear words silenced to comply with local laws.

A muted version of Andrey Zvyagintsev's Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe-winning film, Leviathan, will be released in Russia on Thursday.

The producers of the film, which has provoked controversy and criticism at home for its uncompromising portrayal of corrupt officials, say 650 copies will be released at cinemas across Russia, with swear words silenced to comply with local laws.

A law adopted last year limits profanities in films to swearing that is essential to plot or character. Zvyagintsev had argued that the level of swearing by officials and other characters in the film simply reflects Russian reality.

Alexander Rodnyansky, one of the film's producers, says that even though thousands of Russians have already seen the film via illegal downloads (after a copy was leaked shortly before Leviathan won best foreign film at the Golden Globes last month), there is still heavy demand from exhibitors.

Contrary to expectations, the level of pirate viewing had created a wave of interest in the film across Russia, Rodnyansky told business daily Kommersant. "It is a big plus. [The controversy] suggests emotional involvements and even notoriously negative attitudes are usually an incentive for viewing," he said. "There is very big interest from theaters, and they are usually guided by audience demand."

There have been calls for state funding that the producers received to be returned. Russia's culture minister Vladimir Medinsky had condemned it, even though his ministry was its main sponsor. "Films that are filled with a spirit of hopelessness and the meaninglessness of existence should not be funded by taxpayers in my opinion," Medinsky said after the film's Golden Globe win, adding that it "spits" on Russia's elected officials. And the church — which is depicted as a callous confederate of the small town mayor who deprives the film's hero, Kolya, of his property — has dubbed it "evil" and called for the film to be banned.

The film has even spawned a million-ruble court suit. Valeriy Grishko, an actor and theater director who played the priest who colludes with the mayor, is suing a lawmaker in Russia's Volga river Samara region for defamation. Last month, Dmitry Sivirkin, a member of the local parliament, accused Grishko, a leading director at the Samara drama theatre, of insulting authorities and the Russian Orthodox Church by playing the character. Grishko, who was also accused of being "unpatriotic," is demanding that Sivirkin apologize and pay a million rubles ($15,300) in damages. Zvyagintsev has pledged to support Grishko and provide all possible help should the case go to court.