NEW YORK – Oscar has spoken. Neither Leviathan, the Russian film nominated for the best Foreign Language Film, nor American Sniper, nominated for Best Picture, won. Yet both, in a way, are the most representative films of the year, as each captures the essence of why Russia and the United States now seem doomed to wage a new Cold War.
Following Russia's invasion of Ukraine, Leviathan faced an uphill public-relations battle. But Leviathan's bleak portrait of contemporary Russian life actually confirms many of the reasons why Americans have been largely dubious about Russia's ability to reform following communism's collapse.
That doubt has been reflected in popular culture. Since 1991, Hollywood has documented American mistrust of post-Soviet Russia in a series of films – for example, The Saint, Air Force One, The Golden Compass of 2006, Salt, and The November Man. Russian President Vladimir Putin's thuggish foreign policy has proved these Russophobes right, so nominating Leviathan, the superb biopsy of his regime, seemed only right.
And, though Oscar did not anoint Leviathan, the film deserves all of the accolades it has received. Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev in an eerie style that one might call the “realism of despair," the film is both epic and deeply nuanced. The title harks back to the book of Job and recalls Herman Melville's Moby Dick.