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A fresh reboot of i-Flicks - the same stuff, but more of it in bite-sized chunks. Plus, what I'm writing and enjoying reading on other sites. Now Showing: The 2016 London Film Festival.

LFF film review: Fury Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 19 October 2014 18:41

Director: David Ayer
Cast: Brad Pitt, Logan Lerman, Shia LaBeouf, Jon Bernthal
Certificate: 15

"Ideals are peaceful. History is violent."

War is hell. It's something that bears retelling to each generation, but it doesn't excuse a war movie from repeating the same old, tired habits. Fury, though, is far from tired. It's awake and positively buzzing.

Director David Ayer gets down to business straight away, barely pausing for exposition before stabbing someone in the eye. The year is 1945. Hitler is desperate. And the Americans in tanks driving through German countryside? They're screwed.

We quickly fall in with the crew manning Fury: Bible-quoting Boyd (LaBeouf), gun-toting Coon-Ass (Bernthal), driver Gordo (Pena) and their leader, Wardaddy (Pitt). But their names are as irrelevant as the context: history is violent, so they are too. The one exception? Norman (Lerman), a fresh-faced clerk shipped to the front to fill the spot vacated by the team's late assistant driver.

Norman's introduction is our window onto the war; literally, at times, as we frequently look out of his hatch at the ongoing carnage. That claustrophobic sense of location gets right under your skin, thanks to Ayer's direction, which keeps the cameras inside the belly of the Sherman tank as much as possible. As a result, it's impossible not to feel some attachment to the boys on patrol, despite us (like Norman) knowing barely anything about them. Once again, brevity is all that is required: Gordo's conflicted feelings are summed up by the look on Michael Pena's face; Pitt's fatherly sergeant does his best to break the boy in; while an astonishingly understated Shia LaBeouf carries the weight of war on his shoulders with just the shrug of a cigarette.

Bernthal sticks out somewhat, thanks to his overtly aggressive performance - weapons man Coon-ass is the most visibly affected by the battle - but the bond between the unit is what matters; the ensemble genuinely feel like a family, albeit one fuelled by aggression as much as affection. One standout scene halfway through sees that tie contrasted with that of a real German family; a striking juxtaposition that takes place around a bizarrely pristine dinner table.

Amid the stern veterans, Logan's naive junior brings a heavy dose of fright to the mix. The result is a cocktail of adrenaline, repeatedly shaken up in that metal container: Fury distilled, from a potent blend of anger and fear. David Ayer's script casts aside the politics and history lessons: here, there is no good or bad, no sympathy or hate, no English or German. Just killing, by knife, shell or machine gun. Or, if necessary, by running over. Heroes are pushed to horrific extremes, enemies display unexpected acts of kindness. The only difference between them? Who shoots first.

That combination of confined location and stripped-down combat gives each bloody set piece the kind of nerve-jangling tension that made Saving Private Ryan's opening so shocking. This is war on rails - and it thrives on the intense rush of survival. The film lasts more than two hours. It feels like 30 minutes. Thrilling and terrifying in equal measure, Fury retells the violence of history for a generation where peace remains an ideal.

LFF film review: The Duke of Burgundy Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 19 October 2014 06:47

Director: Peter Strickland
Cast: Side Babett Knudsen, Chiara D'Anna
Showtimes: Oct 19th

How do you follow up Berberian Sound Studio? Director Peter Strickland comes up with another assault on your senses - but this time, ones relating to something far more private.

The film follows rich recluse Cynthia (Borgen's arresting Side Babett Knudsen) and her cleaner, Evelyn (a wonderfully timid Chiara D'Anna). Every day, Evelyn turns up on Cynthia's doorstep, sweeping the home's floors and washing her undies. When she makes a mistake, though, she is swiftly punished - in the most humiliating of ways.

What soon becomes apparent, though, is that this couple are engaged in a sadomasochist ritual; a BDSM bond that they reinforce every day with strict routine and sexual relish. But while Evelyn enjoys their game, Cynthia eventually starts to tire: it's not easy being mean all the time. And so, as the months go by, The Duke of Burgundy captures the gradual breakdown of their relationship. Despite their physical openness, terse conversations and unsaid frustrations pry the pair apart.

Strickland stitches together this study in pain and pleasure with careful precision; raunchy encounters in the bedroom and tearful moments in the study care are cut with still collections of butterflies, which Cynthia keeps trapped in cases on the wall. The quietness and intensity create a stifling air that leaves you squirming as the slow 104 minutes unfold - and intentionally so. By the time a breathtaking dream sequence arrives, which sees giant moths flying through Cynthia's darkened box, the unconventional flourishes only confirm the overwhelmingly conventional nature of all romance; a reminder that even between the most risqué legs, the fluttering wings of desire can be fleeting.

LFF film review: The Satellite Girl and Milk Cow Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 19 October 2014 06:24

Director: Hyung-yun Chang
Cast: Yoo Ah-in, Jung Yu-mi
Showtimes: Oct 18th, Oct 19th

"My name is KIT-SAN1. I weight 46.8kg. I am a satellite."

That's KIT-SAN1, a talking satellite. Her mission? To observe Earth. But one day, she crashes down to the ground, a tumble that turns her into a human girl (Il-ho) - with detachable rocket arms. Soon, she meets a singing milk cow, who used to be a singer called Kyung-chun - but transformed after a girl dumped him, breaking his heart.

Stop me if this getting too weird.

So far, it's all par for the course for this South Korean animation, whose name (The Satellite Girl and the Milk Cow) prepares you for the frankly bonkers premise. No sooner than Kyung-chun swaps his human skin for fur, though, the Milk Cow finds himself hunted by The Incinerator, an evil machine that hunts broken hearts and devours their internal organs.

Not weird enough yet?

The cow is helped by Merlin the wizard, who introduces him to Il-ho. And is disguised as loo roll.

If you're still reading, then The Satellite Girl and the Milk Cow (Uribyeol ilhowa ulrookso) is for you. Director Hyung-yun Chang's no stranger to strange (he previously made a short called A Coffee Vending Machine and Its Sword) and the filmmaker seizes his first feature-length stage with an impressive ambition: ideas literally fly across the screen, whether they're bog rolls, robots or even pianos. Meanwhile, our cow finds himself a man suit to hide in, zipping in and out of the fake skin like something from a kids' David Lynch film.

But Chang has an eye for emotion too, which keeps his surreal adventure on solid ground.

"Don't you know what happened to me because of you?" cries Kyung-chun at the love of his life. "I turned into a milk cow!"

That hilarious juxtaposition of earnest heart and out-there head makes for a constantly surprising - and funny - adventure, which recalls the whimsy and creativity of Studio Ghibli. At times, it recalls them a little too much; one scene sees a witch send pig snouts searching through a house for Merlin, while the resolution, as with similarly-magic-themed Howl's Moving Castle, feels far too simple.

But if the background drawings do not always live up to the standards of Japan's best, the country's neighbour still finds more than enough to prove its own animated mettle. Growing from a bizarre fantasy to an 80-minute meditation on love and the nature of humanity, The Satellite Girl and the Milk Cow is a bizarre delight to behold, whether you're seven years old or seventy. "You're just not my type," says the milk cow, at one point. "You're a satellite." Sometimes, all it takes to make the it's-what's-on-the-inside-that-counts message new is a singing milk cow and talking satellite. And a wizard shaped like toilet roll. What a charming space oddity this is.

LFF film review: Night Bus Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Sunday, 19 October 2014 00:02

Director: Simon Baker
Showtimes: Oct 18th

They say that you should always write about what you know. Debut director and writer Simon Baker, then, must catch a lot of buses.

It's not hard to see where the inspiration for Night Bus came from: you can witness a surprising amount in a single journey, be it serious or silly. Baker takes advantage of that to create a fly-on-the-wall-style drama based around an evening on an East London route.

We see people from all walks of life, from students or a middle-class couple bickering after a cultural night out to addicts and a jealous boyfriend complaining about his girlfriend's behaviour in a club. But while overhearing conversations is common on public transport, Baker understands that the most interesting moments occur when these strangers interact.

Highlights include a drunk girl bickering with a pair of rap fans about utter nonsense and, on a bizarrely tragic note, a guy going to extraordinarily lengths to get a woman's phone number - without her even realising. Every time someone gets on board, you wonder whether they will talk to anyone else, and how that will affect each of them; a bizarre meta-tension as stories wait to be told.

Shot over a week on a bus in East London, the cast are given room to improvise their dialogue, adding a natural sheen to proceedings that feels closer to documentary than drama. That realism gives this a universal appeal beyond London travellers, ironically backed up by the genuine location, which is used to superb effect, cutting between seats and rows so that familiar faces go from centre stage to the background, where their lives silently continue.

Perhaps inevitably, some moments do not always pay off - fare dodgers and one boy who just wants to talk attempt to develop the character of the bus driver (Wayne Goddard), but to limited success. You wonder what it would be like if Baker were given a budget and a six-episode TV series to really explore the range and depth of these disconnected stories. Nonetheless, the meandering narrative is a fitting approach for the confined context, as the movie winds its way to a gentle stop, accompanied by DoP Dominic Bartels's sedate visuals and the moody music. An improvised, original low-budget flick with heart, humour and a host of colourful characters? It's all in a night's bus ride for this movie.

Film review: Palo Alto Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 18 October 2014 23:13
Director: Gia Coppola
Cast: James Franco, Emma Roberts
Certificate: 15

Palo Alto is a film based on the novel by James Franco, starring James Franco as a teacher who gets to sleep with one of his students. If it sounds self-indulgent, don't worry: it is, but it's also more than that.

The movie is directed by Gia Coppola, the latest in the Copolla clan to pick up a movie camera. (With her arrival on screen, the family now have enough filmmakers to create their own cinematic version of the Von Trapp singers.) Like Franco, it would be all too easy to dismiss Gia, but Palo Alto cements them as voices worth listening to.

More importantly, though, it shines a spotlight on several other voices: rather than hog than spotlight, Coppola uses Franco's novel as a platform to showcase a young, talented cast. The mult-strand narrative delivers the usual array of coming-of-age cliches: there's April (Emma Roberts), the virgin who fancies her soccer coach; Teddy (Jack Kilmer), the quiet one who fancies April; Emily (Zoe Levin), the one who fancies not being known as the class slut; and Fred (Nat Wolff), the troublemaker who fancies getting off with Emily, not to mention anything else that moves.

The performers, though, infuse each of these stereotypes with an unexpected depth. Levin is tragically needy as Emily, while Kilmer is endearingly insecure, happy to cover for Teddy, even as he knows he's getting dragged down into a world of vandalism and community service. The exuberantly talented Wolff nails himself to the fence between annoying and amusing, hyperactively stealing every scene before chomping on any scenery left behind. But Roberts is the one who really engages; whether she's smooching Franco or looking stroppy at soccer, she embodies the movie's overwhelming sense of ennui even more than the directionless script.

There are unsubtle moments of superficial effort, from the electronic score to a scene that sees Teddy drive a car into a wall, just for the hell of it. But it's in the quiet exchanges in between that the cast work best, elevating Franco's short stories. In 1983, Francis Ford Coppola made The Outsiders. 16 years later, in 1999, Sofia Coppola made The Virgin Suicides. Released in 2014, Palo Alto may not quite hit the sweet 16, but this collage of Millennial youngsters frequently comes together to form something just as timeless and universal.

LFF film review: Whiplash Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 18 October 2014 18:52

Director: Damien Chazelle
Cast: Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons
Showtimes: Oct 18th

Jazz is all about timing. Many people think it's just made up on the spot, any-which-way-you-fancy improv, but a large chunk of it is also written down. There are chord progressions, standard songs, time signatures. If you want to make it over the top - to become really, truly great - you first have to follow the rules of engagement.

No one knows the law of the battlefield like Fletcher (J.K. Simmons). The hardened conductor lords it over the Shaffer Conservatory's best big band with a fist of brass. Brass ready to spill blood. So when young pupil Andrew (Miles Teller) manages to sit on the group's coveted drumming stool, he's determined to stay there - and Fletcher's determined to make him earn it.

How? Practice. You need to devote time so you can keep time - something that most films about music tend to forget. Usually biopics, they present us with famous musicians who go through personal trials and tribulations, only to emerge the other side a fully-formed artist. It's a treat, then, to see a film about the practical nature of music, one that plays out like the messy underside of that artificial drum; the side with the snare on it.

"Are you rushing or dragging?" Fletcher interrogates Andrew, as they rehearse the titular track by Hank Levy. He asks over and over, like a drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket: The Musical.

Simmons is terrifying, a wide-eyed brute whose foul-mouthed insults are as hilarious as they are intimidating. Anyone who has ever had a bullying music teacher - and they do exist, albeit not as extreme as this - will immediately recognise the fear of playing a wrong note and the ensuing disappointment of both letting your mentor down and, worse, yourself. But there is a universal intrigue to that process, the unseen way in which talent develops - which, in Whiplash's hands, is arranged as a thrilling piece of physical, human drama. (In the words of Alan Partridge, crash, bang, wallop. What a video.)

Teller, who can play the drums in real life, is sensational as the eager student, a boy so focused that he shuts out all other concerns: family tensions, romantic dates, even a car crash are all ignored by him and the blinkered script follows suit. The only thing that matters here is the music.

Grimacing, laughing and sweating profusely, the young star is astonishing to watch in action - not only acting while playing the drums, but appearing believably enough out of sync with the rest of the band to spark Fletcher's wrath. Together, the pair form a dazzling duet, riffing off each other, as Teller's drumming becomes tighter and their relationship changes key, from nasty humour to just plain nasty.

All the while, director Damien Chazelle keeps tempo - a breakneck metronome that, like Justin Hurwitz's score (including a selection of standards, such as Caravan), is a toe-tapping masterclass in precision. As Andrew gets better, pushed by this monster with a manuscript, Chazelle's camera rappels across the kit, bouncing off the hi-hat and toms with its own fascinating rhythm. The pair, Chazelle reveals, are labouring under the (misunderstood) legend of Charlie Parker, who was given the push he needed to become Bird by Jo Jones lobbing a cymbal at his head. Are they right to believe that this is the only way to greatness? After all, classic jazz needs soul as well as skill. And all your body parts intact.

The director skilfully modulates the tone from unnerving comedy to doubting horror, but the real crescendo occurs with the final movement of his dizzying 19-day shoot, a blistering dash to the final bar that throws all that rigid conducting out of the window - and goes for a freewheeling rim-shot to the gut. Mention jazz to most people and they'll switch off, dismissing it as made-up noise. Whiplash, though, brings the house down every time. It's all about timing. And it doesn't miss a beat.

LFF film review: Robot Overlords Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 18 October 2014 15:02

Director: Jon Wright
Cast: Gillian Anderson, Ben Kingsley, Callan McAuliffe, Ella Hunt
Showtimes: Oct 18th, Oct 19th

There's something to be said for a film that knows exactly what it is - and puts it right in the title. There's also something to be said about a film made by Jon Wright, the director of hilarious horror-comedy Grabbers. So when you see a movie called Robot Overlords, directed by Jon Wright, you know just what to expect: something very good. With giant robots.

The movie doesn't disappoint. Set three years after a robot invasion, it sees humanity kept under curfew in their homes - a system held in place with mechanical trackers screwed into people's necks. The film doesn't shy away from the nasty reality of the situation, with grown-ups vaporised within minutes of the opening frame, including the father of young Conor (Milo Parker).

Taken in by motherly neighbour Kate (Anderson), a freak electrical accident sees Conor's tracker disabled - much to the delight of his adopted siblings, Sean (McAuliffe), Alexandra (Ella Hunt) and Nathan (Jason Tarpey).

What do they do with their newfound freedom? Start the human resistance - but not before popping to the nearest sweet shop. Mark Stay's script, co-written with Wright, nails that balance between sci-fi grit and adventurous glam, filtering the Amblin escapades of old through a modern Britain. And so we get the time-honoured themes of fatherhood and family (Sean is searching for his dad, who went missing during the first fights between man and bot), but we also get geezer Tamer Hassan hamming it up as a stereotypical gangster type, who could easily have walked right off the set of Cockneys vs Zombies.

It doesn't skimp on the freaky side of sci-fi, either: our main villain is effectively teacher-turned-cowardly-collaborator Robin Smithe (played with a soft regional accent by Ben Kingsley), but he liaises with "The Mediator", a mechanical child with all the creepiness of Ash in Alien. The film carries the same practical aesthetic as the clunky classics, from the mundane (non-American) location right down the robots themselves, which, while all CGI, have a battered quality that carries a threatening realism; when they shut down and fold into cubes, you could almost reach out and pick one up.

Younger audiences might not deal well with the darker hints of genre, but it gives Robot Overlords an exciting rush to events that can sometimes be missing from family fare. The cast, meanwhile, has more than enough humour to balance it out. The always-excellent Anderson is given the odd ripe line of dialogue, but Callan McAuliffe is charming as the young Harrison Ford-a-like, Ella does well with the love interest role, while Harpey, soon to be seen in the excellent The Beat Beneath My Feet, is enjoyably stupid. It is Milo, though, who brings them together, his enthusiastic presence helping the ensemble to interact in a wholly natural way that offsets any cheesy moments.

Cinema at the moment is enjoying a wave of young adult series, with The Hunger Games, The Maze Runner and Divergent all offering entertainment for US teen audiences. How rewarding it is, then, to see a young adult sci-fi that feels so British - and is ruddy good to boot. Boasting top-notch world-building on a small-scale budget, Robot Overlands is smart enough not to reach beyond its fun premise (it clocks in at just 88 minutes), yet remains brave enough to leave questions unanswered, paving the way for what could be a promising sequel - not to mention a strong career for Wright. He may not have the Hollywood buzz of Christopher Nolan or the hyper-kinetic style of the similar-surnamed Edgar, but the director has a voice (and confidence of tone) that knows exactly who he is, whether he's working with drunken aliens or giant robots. A UK franchise featuring more kids taking on tyrannical machines? I, for one, welcome our new Robot Overlords.

LFF film review: White Bird in a Blizzard Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Saturday, 18 October 2014 12:34

Director: Gregg Araki
Cast: Shailene Woodley, Eva Green, Thomas Jane
Showtimes: Oct 16th, Oct 18th

How many modern filmmakers are there who be easily identified from their work? Gregg Araki is certainly one of them. His saturated colours, sexual intensity, coming-of-age themes and surreal flourishes are always recognisable - and present and correct in this latest, White Bird in a Blizzard. And yet this is, in some ways, the least Gregg Araki Gregg Araki film to date.

The film, based on Laura Kasischke's novel, is ostensibly a domestic mystery, making this a surprisingly straightforward tale. Shailene Woodley stars as Kat, whose mum, Eve (Green), goes missing - and never returns. Has she been murdered? Kidnapped? Or did she simply get bored of her married life and run off with another bloke?

Thomas Jane's butch Detective Scieziesciez is more concerned with getting off with Kat than finding the gone girl - a fact that is both the strength and weakness of Araki's movie. The director's continued passion for, well, passion, is as hard as ever, which means that any sense narrative drive plays second fiddle to sexual tension. But it also gives Woodley a chance to shine, echoing her own character's growth into womanhood with another striking - but this time highly sensual - performance.

She is rivalled in the arousing stakes by Eva Green, who dials up her attractiveness to the max as the picture-perfect housewife; a Stepford mum with a spiky bitterness. Is it because she's jealous of Kat's boyfriend, the dull Phil from next door? Or is she just bored? The ambiguities swirl around in delightfully realised dream sequences, while Araki's script milks Phil for every laugh he's worth. They combine to make an engaging mix of suburban melodrama and psychological thriller; a cross between Twin Peaks and Hollyoaks that gives Gregg Araki's familiar features a restrained, grown-up edge.

When the ending arrives, it feels almost irrelevant, but there is more than enough in the middle to intrigue. White Bird in a Blizzard may not grip you by the brain or by the balls, but it quietly entrances with its moving performances and beautiful visuals.

LFF film review: The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 17 October 2014 23:24

The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby is a peculiar piece. Made as a two-part exploration of a couple's break-up - each one told from the male or female perspective - it was famously chopped together to make a single version: Him and Her cut to make Them.

The film follows Conor (McAvoy) and Eleanor (Chastain) dealing with the breakdown of their relationship. Writer-director Ned Benson cuts back and forth between the strands effectively enough, but the he-said/she-said structure doesn't always gel; perhaps it is wishful thinking that the Him and Her cuts would prove more emotionally rewarding.

That is not to say there is no feeling here: both sides of the story demand our sympathy. James McAvoy's cheeky smile and watering eyes make Conor a likeable, yet hugely vulnerable, husband, a failed restauranteur overshadowed by his successful father. Jessica Chastain, meanwhile, is ruthlessly aloof, moving on to a new life with barely a glance back.

Each actor is supported by a sterling ensemble. Bill Hader as Conor's chef and Ciaran Hinds as his dad are well realised performances, with one father-son bonding scene in the second half feeling wonderfully natural. VIola Davis also makes an impression as Eleanor's university mentor, Professor Friedman, their no-nonsense exchanges providing a steely humour to offset the moving moments involving Rigby's parents (the poignant partnership of Isabelle Huppert and William Hurt).

As we uncover the reason for the relationship's demise, the examination of coping and mourning finds tender, moving beats - a man who wants to talk and a woman who wants to run away subverts gender stereotypes in a way that matches the sincerity of Benson's script. He shoots McAvoy and Chastain's scenes together with an eye and ear for their substantial chemistry. But you wish we had longer to explore their depths; the performances are so good that you simply want more of them.

Whether knowing individual cuts of the movie exist affects your perception or not, The Disappearance of Eleanor Rigby: Them ends up being a two-hour trailer for the other two films. The good news is that in America, the individual cuts have been released following the reception to Them. Hopefully the same will happen off the back of this London Film Festival premiere. This abridged edit is a beautifully acted tale of two grieving halves - unhappily joined together.

LFF film review: The Tribe Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 17 October 2014 21:44

55 per cent of communication is non-verbal. Body language, eye contact, posture. All of it adds up to form a message with meaning. But still, the prospect of a two-hour film entirely in sign language - with no subtitles - is daunting.

Of course, for the kids at a Kiev boarding school for the deaf, non-verbal communication is the norm: they don't need noise to communicate. The result is a bizarre form of silent cinema, which unfolds in a string of hand movements, accompanied by the occasional slap, stroke or pant.

Into the school steps Sergey (Grigoriy Fesenko), a newcomer to the establishment. Soon, though, he finds himself sucked into a regime of institutionalised crime, a group of boys who steal from unsuspecting train passengers by day - and pimp out their female co-pupils to truck drivers at night. The nasty events are conducted in that same, studied quiet, with no music to disrupt the documentary-like realism.

The unheard elephant in the room, inevitably, is comprehension: with no on-screen text to translate, is it possible to understand what's going on?

The answer is both yes and no. Specific conversations and details occasionally flummox, but the overall gist of the plot is fascinatingly easy to follow. When Sergey falls in love with Anna, one of the two prostituted girls, for example, we know it cannot end well. But the sound of silence has an alienating effect too, putting us firmly outside of the closed criminal clique.

It is impossible not to be affected, though, by what you see. Myroslav Slaboshpytskiy films events in long takes, emphasising the chemistry between the members of this harsh tribe. It is telling that the only times we do hear noises are during scenes of extreme pain or the unflinchingly unglamorous sex scenes - moments of universal experience that need no translation.

One sequence halfway through sees someone receive an impromptu abortion, a 10-minute single shot that climaxes in strained cries of pain. In a universe where noise is not required, the unfamiliar yelps of a child's unused vocal chords take on a new, heart-shattering quality that emphasises the shock of their adult actions. By the time the violent final act arrives, each scrape of furniture is deafening.

55 per cent of communication is non-verbal, they say. You may only be able to process half of The Tribe, but you feel 100 per cent of its impact.

LFF film review: Leviathan Print E-mail
Written by Ivan Radford   
Friday, 17 October 2014 11:12

When it comes to opening shots, none set the tone quite like Leviathan's: a deliberately slow zoom in on a court official reading aloud the history of a case. Hearing after hearing. Appeal after appeal. Every time you think she'll stop, she keeps on going.

The matter in hand? The property and land of Kolya (Alexey Serebryakov), who lives on the fishing coast of Russia with his son, Roma (Sergey Pokhodaev), and second wife Lilya (Elena Lyadova). But one day, the local mayor decides he wants to seize it so that he can build a luxury leisure complex on the site: an opulent service for the higher-ups in society, literally trampling over those at the bottom. And so Kolya asks an old friend to help: Dmitri (Vladimir Vdovitchenkov), a lawyer from Moscow.

Director Andrey Zvyagintsev shoots their legal battle against this gigantic sea monster at a snail's crawl, his script (co-written with Oleg Negin) taking time to explore the characters on both sides of the wave. On the crest of power sits the hilariously repulsive Sergey Pokhodaev, who totters about making demands during the day and, at night, quizzes a priest for reassurance. Not for his soul, but for the security of his social status.

On the underside of the flood is our poor protagonist, a tiny figure drowning in a gigantic, widescreen landscape. Alexey Serebryakov's downtrodden yet resilient man, supported by Vdovitchenkov's suitably suave lawyer, finds himself caught in a situation where everyone wants something belonging to someone else, be it women, land, money or power. And so, fuelled by vodka, he tries to stay afloat.

The agonisingly deliberate pacing of this never-ending struggle keeps you emotionally detached from events, but the director isn't afraid to find the humour in the grimly insurmountable odds - we spend time with the family on a day out, where their idea of a fun is shooting photos of past leaders with machine guns, and chortle disgustingly at the walrus-like mayor.

There is grit in the water: it is telling that Kolya's only hope of success is to blackmail the mayor into leaving his home alone, forced to sink beneath the calm waters to soak in the current of corruption. A lengthy sermon, meanwhile, sees the country's rich and powerful lectured on the importance of God's truth - "Listen," whispers our mayor to his boy, "God sees everything" - before driving away in a cavalcade of shiny cars.

For all the salty bite this satire spits, though, the title apparently refers to the text Leviathan by Hobbes, who wrote that rule by an absolute sovereign is necessary for society to function. What happens when that sovereign starts taking from others? That opening shot of legal mumbo-jumbo gives us the cruel, inevitable answer: it is endless, useless and utterly meaningless.

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