Proving again that no man is a prophet in his own land, much heralded Russian film Leviathan, a Golden Globe winner and an Academy Award nominee, missed out on the top prize in its homeland. At the annual Golden Eagle film awards, which recognize the Russian movies of 2014, the best film trophy went to Sunstroke by revered Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov.
It was a big night for the famous Mikhalkov clan, with Nikita’s brother, Andrei Konchalovsky, getting the best screenplay award for The Postman’s White Nights, a best director Silver Lion winner at Venice last year. (The Mikhalkov brothers come from a long line of aristocrats. Their father was famous Soviet poet Sergei Mikhalkov.)
Leviathan, which was nominated for the top Golden Eagle prize, walked away with the award for best directing (Andrey Zvyagintsev) and two acting trophies. In addition to the best foreign language Golden Globe, the modern retelling of the Book of Job won the best screenplay award at Cannes.
While Leviathan’s upset may look surprising from the outside, Mikhalkov is a film royalty in Russia. He scored the country’s only foreign language Oscar 20 years ago for Burnt by the Sun and the previous nomination for a Russian film before Leviathan, 12 in 2007. Despite voices of opposition, Mikhalkov’s critically panned and box-office bombing sequel to Burnt by the Sun was voted by the Russian Oscar committee as the country’s official submission in 2011. (Sunstroke was released late in the year, so it did not compete with Leviathan for a shot at the Oscar race this time.)
Based on works by Nobel Prize-winning Russian author Ivan Bunin about the Red Terror events in 1920 when thousands of White officers were imprisoned in a Crimean camp by the Red Army, Sunstroke was filmed in the Ukrainian city of Odessa before it became a battleground during the recent Crimean crisis.
“It took us 37 years to get this movie made,” Mikhalkov said while accepting the award. “We didn’t expect it to be so current. We spent two years filming in Odessa, but that Odessa is no longer.”