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Russian Culture Minister Blasts Oscar Nominee Leviathan As 'Opportunistic'

Leviathan offers a stark portrayal of official corruption in provincial Russia.
Leviathan offers a stark portrayal of official corruption in provincial Russia.

Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky has suggested that the creators of the Oscar-nominated film Leviathan are exploiting anti-Russian sentiment to garner international accolades.

Medinsky said in a January 15 interview with the newspaper Izvestia that the film's bleak tale of a Russian man's battle with corruption could have been set in the United States, France, or Italy.

"In that case it's unlikely the creators would have received so many prestigious Western awards," Medinsky was quoted as saying. "Let's admit that, in the chase for international success, this film is extremely opportunistic."

Directed by Andrei Zvyagintsev, Leviathan won the Golden Globe award for best foreign film and was shortlisted for the Oscars' foreign-language film category on January 15.

Leviathan has had only a limited release at home, and some suspect it has been held back because its portrayal of corrupt authorities in Russia hits too close to home for President Vladimir Putin's government.

In his interview with Izvestia, Medinsky criticized the film for not having "a single positive character."

"So it's more or less clear whom Zvyagintsev hates," he was quoted as saying. "But whom does he love? Glory, red carpets and statues, that's clear. But does he love any of his characters? I have considerable doubts."

Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky
Russian Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky

Medinsky added that he does not consider the film "anti-Russian" but rather misrepresentative of Russia's citizens and the reality of life in the country.

"Do I see some sort of special Russian identity in the film's characters? No, I don't," he told Izvestia. "However much the creators force them to swear or drink vodka straight from the bottle, it doesn't make [the characters] true Russians."

Russia's Culture Ministry financed around 35 percent of the film, raising some eyebrows given its dark portrayal of the country and an all-powerful, uncaring state.

Medinsky noted that the decision to provide state funding for Russian films is made by a panel of ministry experts who vote confidentially, not by the culture minister.

He did not say whether he agreed with financing the project from state coffers but said that he personally believes taxpayers should not pay for films that "openly spit on" the government and are "filled with a spirit of despair and the pointlessness of our existence."

"I hope that, in the future, Andrei Zvyagintsev, a very talented person, will use the Culture Ministry's support to make a film lacking this existential doom and gloom," Izvestia cited Medinsky as saying.

Zvyagintsev told RFE/RL's Current Time TV that the film's creators and the Culture Ministry "most likely" differ in their understanding of "what is patriotic and what is not."

"Patriotism that covers up the dark areas, the problematic areas of society and that says everything is fine, that we are the best and most wonderful … is the position of an ignorant, unenlightened adolescent who does not want to know the truth," he said.

He said in a recent interview with Screen magazine, however, that the film's plot was partly inspired by a 2004 case in the United States in which a Colorado man who was locked in a dispute with local officials attacked the town hall and the mayor's home with a bulldozer.

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