Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. Russia, 2014. Non-Stop Productions, A Company Russia, Russian Ministry of Culture, Fond kino. Screenplay by Andrey Zvyagintsev, Oleg Negin. Cinematography by Mikhail Krichman. Produced by Sergey Melkumov, Alexander Rodyansky. Music by Andrey Dergachev, Philip Glass. Production Design by Andrey Ponkratov. Costume Design by Anna Bartuli. Film Editing by Anna Mass. Academy Awards 2014. Cannes Film Festival 2014. Golden Globe Awards 2014. Toronto International Film Festival 2014.
A corrupt politician wants to take over the land upon which Nikolai owns a house, inciting a court battle that opens this fascinating political epic. The game spirals out of control as the volatile hero gets his lawyer Dmitri involved, who gets involved with Nikolai’s wife, and things seem to go their way with the evidence mounting of a scandal among the top brass. This is Russia, however, and the supposedly legitimate people at the top of the democratic food chain start issuing nasty, bullying threats at those whom they are supposed to be working for and the tide begins to change. Andrey Zvyagintsev’s masterful film, reminiscent of the kind of stuff Andrzej Wajda does best, is full of cynicism about Russian society, a place where the brutality of the Soviet years has gone nowhere and, no matter how good you are at trying to topple the bad guys, the house they own always wins over the one you built. Thankfully, Zvyagintsev is also a man with a great sense of humour, which means that none of these themes play out in a heavy-handed manner in order to teach us anything; the proceedings are entertaining regardless of the message, and the acting is top-notch from the uniformly brilliant cast.