Russian Official Criticizes Oscar-Nominated 'Leviathan'

Best Foreign-Language Film

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

Andrei Zvyagintsev's 'Leviathan' "spits on" Russia and similar films should not get state funding, culture minister says.

Russia's minister of culture has lashed out at the director of Oscar-nominated Leviathan, accusing him making an "anti-Russian film" and chasing "international success" with a story set in his homeland but partially based on a violent incident in America.

In a newspaper interview published hours before nominations for next month's Academy Awards were announced, Vladimir Medinsky said Andrei Zvyagintsev had failed to depict any character with redeeming qualities in a film partially state funded by his predecessor at the ministry.

"Strange, but among the film's characters, there is not a single positive hero," Medinsky told Izvestia.

The director had sought "international success" by making the film in Russia, though it was based on U.S events, the true story of a Colorado man with a grudge against officials who bulldozed the home of the local mayor and town hall before shooting himself, Medinsky said.

"Perhaps one could make [such a film] in Colorado, the Arab suburbs of Paris, or depressed areas of southern Italy," the minister continued. "However, in this case, the creators would hardly get so many prestigious western awards. Recognizing that, in the pursuit of international success, the film was shot in a domestic environment."

The film's plot focuses on mechanic Kolya and his family who loses his harbor-side home in dispute with a corrupt local mayor who wants to build a church on the land. It is the story of a man who loses everything he holds most dear, including hope, in the face of ruthless officials utterly indifferent to his fate. 

Medinsky, who Sunday welcomed the film's Golden Globe win, remarking that it reflected the current quality of Russian film, said Leviathan was "anti-Russian."

"It does not seem to me a purely Russian story; it is a universal story that could take place anywhere in the world, including ours…callous officials … can be encountered everywhere," Medinsky said, adding that he saw nothing particularly Russian about the film's themes.

In more personal remarks, the culture minister accused Zvyagintsev of caring more about "glory, red carpets and statuettes" than his characters and said he did not think such films should be funded by Russian taxpayers.

 "I don’t make funding decisions," Medinsky said. "That is done by secret ballot of an expert council, but in my personal opinion films that are sharply critical of the current government and, frankly spit on it, filled with hopelessness and existential meaninglessness, should not be funded by taxpayers."

Other Russian officials have also criticized the film. Sergey Markov, of Kremlin consultation body, the Civic Chamber of the Russian Federation, called it “an anti-Russian film made for foreign masters, an anti-Putin manifesto in cinema.”

Orthodox church activists Thursday urged the culture ministry to ban the film on the grounds that it is "an evil film" and two cinemas in Kirovsk and Murmansk - cities in the Arctic coastal region where Leviathan was filmed - were said to be refusing to show it when it gets its local release Feb. 5.

Local authorities in the region denied any official ban, but news agency FlashNord Thursday quoted an anonymous source in Murmansk region government as saying that governor Marina Kovtun believed the film painted the region in a negative light and suggested that local theaters not exhibit it.

The agency also quoted an unnamed owner of a local theater saying authorities had recommended they not screen the film.

Murmansk government's spokesman Denis Pushin denied that. He told news agency Interfax: "There were and could be no such recommendations."

Earlier this week, residents of the village Teriberka, where shooting of Leviathan took place, said they were unhappy with the way their village was depicted. "We are all shown as drunks living in a dump," the village's head Tatiana Trubilina told FlashNord.

A spokesman for Russian distributor of the film, Twentieth Century Fox C.I.S., told The Hollywood Reporter he was unaware of any ban.