REVIEW COMBO: Leviathan (Andrey Zvyagintsev)/Wild Tales (Damián Szifron)

by Jason Suzuki

Wild Tales is a sure crowd-pleaser; a collection of six stories that follow people who are pushed to their breaking points in, for the most part, common conflicts. It is the first three stories that worked the best for me as they are not as predictable with easily cathartic acts of revenge. The three stories in the film’s second half are the ones where you can see where they are going to go. Since they are much shorter, the first three stories don’t have the time be restrained in the build up. They move and are more surprising in the directions they go because of it.

One of the standout sequences in the film, which follows a demolitions expert whose life is continuously turned to shit after a run-in with a unjust car-towing and a Sisyphean run-through with bureaucracy starting at the DMV (you can guess where this is going to go based on the info), is like a Coen brothers film where the world continuously beats down the protagonist like in A Serious Man and Inside Llewyn Davis, where they will not entertainingly fight back and if they do, the world will continue to foil them. Wild Tales is good if you’re looking for pure fun but are too good for the type of pure fun found at your mainstream theater. Also if you enjoy great title sequences/opening credits this has a really good one.

Leviathan is a Russian epic that put between Wild Tales and A Serious Man, it falls closer to the Coen side as far as David and Goliath situations go except without the humor. It pulls off the feat of beating the audience over the head with its soul, the driving force/reason that this film exists, while at the same time treating the audience respectively with the use of ellipsis throughout the story. It’s the story of what happens over a land dispute between someone in government and those who are not. It’s pessimism is relentless but makes the experience so rewarding once you get the film’s closing reveal. It’s point is to make you go, “All that for this?” but in a good way.

There is a real life situation that acts as Leviathan as done in the Wild Tales: Marvin Heemeyer and his armored bulldozer. A Granby, Colorado resident, Heemeyer was a muffler repair shop owner who after the outcome of a zoning dispute modified a bulldozer with steel and concrete and proceeded to demolish the town hall and a former mayor’s house among other things. Heemeyer is not a pure and wronged David though, he seemed to have reneged on the agreed price for his land with the concrete company he was supposed to sell to. This just makes him more interesting as he’s not entirely likable. Finally, his bulldozer gets stuck in the foundation of a place he just bulldozed (hilarious irony). If this were Wild Tales he would get out of the bulldozer as SWAT surround the vehicle, see that the foundation of the building was concrete from the same company he had disputes with (full circle moment), and laugh. Instead, he committed suicide while still in the bulldozer. So while not quite a savage tale as would be found in the film, his story was the basis for Leviathan. One country’s bizarro tales is appropriated to criticize the government of another country. Now it’s a wild tale again.

Jason Suzuki is co-editor to Cinema Adrift.