Whoa…Tass announced today that Andrey Zvyagintsev‘s Leviathan, easily the strongest foreign-language drama I’ve seen this year, has been selected as Russia’s official submission for the Best Foreign Language Feature Oscar at the 87th Academy Awards. Do I need to point out what a total shocker this is? Nobody expected this. Everyone was presuming that a film as critical of Putin-esque corruption as Leviathan would surely be denied Russia’s official stamp. This is glorious news. Leviathan should have won the Palme d’Or last May — shame on the Jane Campion-led jury for giving it a piddly-shit screenwriting award instead.
A friend comments: “I’m as thrilled as you are about Russia’s selection of Leviathan as its Oscar entry, but not nearly as surprised. Given your enthusiasm for the film, I’m surprised you didn’t track Zvyagintsev down in Telluride (where everyone is so easily accessible) or even Toronto to get the lowdown. I must have talked to him for about a half-hour in Telluride and he explained the following:
“The official committee that decides on the Russian nominee has 20 members and is led by Nikita Mikhalkov, probably the most eminent cultural and cinematic figure in Russia, both in communist and post-commie times. Mikhalkov is friendly with Putin but so big in his own right that he can go his own way without fear of reprisal. He also has a film of his own that is virtually finished and, so Zvyagintsev said, Mik could have rushed it to be shown before the end-of-September deadline if he’d have wanted to impose it. In the end, he didn’t do that.
“Zvyagintsev explained that seven of the 20 committee members are in Putin’s pocket and would have followed orders. But that left a majority of 13 who would either vote their own feelings or take a cue from Mikhalkov about whether or not to support Leviathan. Z’s and Sony Classics’ hope was that the Russians would realize that their best shot was with this hugely acclaimed film and that Mikhalkov would see that, if Russia were to select it, it would not only have a good shot at winning but, more importantly, it would provide the perception that Russia is above this sort of political maneuvering and keen to submit its best film, regardless. It seems that’s what happened.
“The big question now is whether or not the Academy voters are willing to submit to something this grave and serious. Maybe, as with Campion’s disgraceful jury, it just won’t be their thing. The Russians did the right thing; now it’s the Americans’ turn. “