Leviathan: Film Criticized, New Restrictive Rules in Russian Cinema?

Russia has decalred new, restrictive rules regarding the issuing of exhibition licenses for films, decreeing that films “defiling the national culture, posing a threat to national unity and undermining the foundations of the constitutional order” will not be allowed to be screened in cinemas.

This follows a law passed in 2014 that bans any use of profanity in films, and a campaign by culture minister Vladimir Medinsky to foster national strength and unity through cultural institutions. Medinsky called for a “patriotic” internet, and for media to “consolidate the state and society on the basis of values instilled by our history”.

The new rules haven’t yet become law: They were due to be put in effct on January 1, 2015, but are now going through a reviews process in other ministries.

Culture Besmeared?

Filmmakers have protested the proposals. “Who is going to decide that the culture has been besmeared? The ministry? The public? And on the basis of what?” director Andrei Proshkin told Russian news agency Interfax. “How do you determine legally that the culture has been besmeared? And what can besmear a culture more in the 21st century than such laws?”

What Is National Unity

“What is ‘national unity’? This is a completely new term, it didn’t exist in the past,” said Daniil Dondurei, editor of Russian film magazine Iskusstvo Kino. “In the past, all we had was [the term] anti-Soviet propaganda.”

Sam Klebanov of distribution company Kino Bez Granits added: “This is primarily aimed at bringing domestic filmmakers in line, and pointing out to them their place as the ‘wait staff’ in the new ideological hierarchy.”

The timing is strange as changes arrive when Russia’s culture ministry should be celebrating a big success: Leviathan, which has won the 2015 Golden Globe for foreign film and is nominated for the Best Foreign Language Oscar.

The film is being snubbed by many Russian officials.  Medinsky is quoted as saying: “I did not recognise myself, my colleagues, friends or even friends of friends in Leviathan’s characters.”

The film depicts a man struggling against a corrupt local bureaucrat, and is seen as a satire of the Russian political system.

Though the film has been submitted to the new rules on profanity for its upcoming theatrical release, a Russian lawmaker has petitioned Dmitry Medvedev to take back the state funding for the film, claiming “The film director used people’s money to make a dishonest and anti-national picture which is conspicuously at odds with traditional Russian culture, discredits the classical school of Russian cinematography and is inciting hatred in society.”

Medinsky had said that makers of historical films should be “told what’s good, and what’s bad”, and that, regarding state funding, “all flowers should grow but we will only water the ones we like.”

Leviathan’s director Zvyagintsev feels that Medinsky should have been fired for the latter comment.