So as some of you might have heard, Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Leviathan was nominated for the Academy’s Best Foreign Language Film of 2014, and the Kremlinbots don’t like it one bit. Naturally many of the films connected critics have proposed the typical treatment for things they don’t like- banning.
You don’t need to spend too much time in Russia to understand what they are upset about. Leviathan portrays Russia in a candid manner, highlighting the corruption which still permeates much of Russian society. The film’s detractors call it insulting, yet they were utterly silent about Nikitia Mikhalkov’s banal, atrocious film Burnt by the Sun 2. Mikhalkov, of course, is a staunch supporter of Putin and thus his portrayal of Russians as stupid children is tolerated in spite of all the state money his bomb consumed.
By far the most hilarious accusation about the film comes from top clown Sergei Markov, who called it an anti-Russian film made-to-order from abroad. This might be a good time to remind the reader that Sergei Markov is “a Doctor of Political Science, assistant professor of Public Policy department of Faculty of Philosophy at Moscow State University, professor of the Faculty of Political Science at the Moscow State Institute of International Relations (MGIMO-University), director of the Institute of Political Studies.”
Markov’s wacky comments seem to reflect a conspiracy theory that Leviathan is being rewarded for showing Russia in a bad light. Surely the Academy wouldn’t give such a prestigious award to a film that similarly portrayed America in such a bad light, would it? Oh wait, I just remembered that 2013’s best picture was 12 Years a Slave, a film which pulls no punches in its brutal depiction of antebellum chattel slavery. What is more, unlike Leviathan, 12 Years was directed by Steve McQueen, a British director. Starring actor Chiwetel Ejiofor is also British. Imagine that- a negative film about America made by the same country which was either an enemy or a potential enemy of the US until the beginning of the Second World War! Could this be part of a new propaganda offensive aimed at weakening Americans’ patriotism and thus their willingness to respond to a new British invasion? We can’t really know the truth!
All joking aside, you can bet there were plenty of conservatives who were upset about 12 Years a Slave. The more intelligent ones probably knew it would be best to keep their mouth shut. It’s not hard to find Americans with Markov’s mindset, the crucial difference is that in America, most of these people never achieve the level of power and influence he has. In America the kind of people who would bristle with anger at films depicting black suffering are usually those who buy books like The Politically Incorrect Guide to American History and other pseudo-historical works which reassure them that America’s founding fathers were devout Christians no different from those at their own Reformed Independent Southern Evangelical Non-Denominational Church of Methlabburg, Arkansas.
In the past I have tried to give readers who haven’t spent time in Russia an idea of what it’s really like to live here. On some specific issues, I compared it to living in the US around the early period just before and after the Iraq war. This was a time when 9/11 fears were still heightened and anyone questioning the war could not have failed to feel isolated and outnumbered. In retrospect, however, I feel this characterization isn’t strong enough, or at least it is no longer adequate.
Russia is basically like living in a country run by the kind of people who founded and operate Conservapedia. They live in a realm of fantasy and anything which threatens that narrative is written out or suppressed without hesitation. Yet whereas Conservapedia has no actual power in American society, people with that mentality have been given carte blanche in Russia, and they have the power of the state to back it up.
Americans have a hard time understanding this, especially some people from the left wing circles I frequent. We’ve had politicians throw the word freedom around so much until it loses all meaning and we forget that this is often a measurable thing. Imagine if you wanted to make a film about what happened in Ferguson, Missouri, and powerful men throughout society called for you movie to be banned. Imagine the governor of Missouri was able to ban it from being screened in his state. Each and every critic calls your film “anti-American” and says it is aimed at inciting hatred among American citizens. The truth is no defense; if they protest with facts you’ll be told that these things happen in many other countries and are not specific to America. It doesn’t matter if you did your research and the events your film portrays are true. They are anti-American.
Of course Leviathan is a fictional story, but it shows something which actually happens in Russia on a frequent basis. Corruption is a daily part of many people’s lives; it has in one way or another affected virtually every person I know in this country, and it has affected my family personally. Russia’s power elite hate this film because it is a reminder of the fact that after 15 years of their hero Putin’s rule, corruption still prevails. In 2005 or 2006 you could say it was left over from the Yeltsin days. By 2015 it’s clear that Putin hasn’t solved the problem of the 90’s, and with every passing year it becomes increasingly difficult to deny. This is especially true as the country’s economic conditions hurtle back towards those years.
The worse reality is, the stronger the desire of the regime’s supporters to retreat into fantasy land, a Russian fairy tale that has nothing to do with reality on the streets. This is actually quite feasible for the elite who live in their walled compounds outside Moscow or in their luxury penthouse apartments, but the average pro-Kremlin government lacks that ability to hide from reality for very long.