Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev

Can you pull the leviathan with a harpoon, or press down his tongue with a rope?

Can you insert a fishhook into his nose, or pierce his jaw with a barb?

Will he offer much supplication to you, or will he speak soft words to you?

Will he make a covenant with you? Will you take him as a lifelong slave?

 The basis of the plot is the conflict between the hero, Nikolay, and local government officials who plan to evict him and use his property for their own interests. Thus, the search for the location of the property was key to the movie's visual design as the property itself, was, in effect, a main character in the movie. Because the house itself is destroyed and replaced by a church in the movie, we had to find a place that was suitable for the construction of both.

 The movie was originally scripted to take place in middle Russia, far from the ocean and all that natural beauty. But later, we came to the conclusion that we needed to find somewhere really exceptional, somewhere unique. There was a desire to find that place that the hero loves so much that he is ready to fight for it, even at the cost of his life, that amazing, fantastic place. Lengthy expeditions to scout for a location in central Russia had been fruitless, and so, in search of greater visual purity, we moved to the North. We stopped on the very brink of the Kola Peninsula in the settlement of Teriberka. The panorama immediately spoke to our artistic vision and the decision to shoot there was obvious.

 To be authentic and believable, the set had to be realistic, and we could only achieve this by building within the context of the plot. For this reason, together with Andrey Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin, we wrote an original piece of script to guide our art direction and to remind us of the history of the house. The house had been built by Nikolay's grandfather in 1920 and had been repeatedly rebuilt and reconstructed by his sons, evolving and splitting in the same way as cells divide and grow. That brought life to the house, making it a kind of organism in itself. Apart from the spatial dimensions, which create the house's character, it is also the textures and colors that give it its uniqueness. All the different materials, patinas, and traces of use give the unmistakable feeling of reality. In one shot, the house had to be demolished and we can see its innards laid bare. We did not make it as a set, everything was real. To this end, even all inner structural elements were artificially aged.

 Even the placement of the house is designed to reflect the characteristics of the protagonist. Separated by the river, like Nikolay, it stands apart from the rest of the community and its other built structures. However, as it’s not traditional in Russia to live a solitary life, a bridge visually connects Nikolay's house with the settlement. To maximize the impact of that unique location as much as possible and make it recognizable to the observer, we decided to use the verandah, which is most open to the surrounding countryside, as the primary location for shooting the main scenes. It is also, clearly, the heart of the home, which heart is ripped out ruthlessly when the house is destroyed. To ensure that the house is not dwarfed by and lost within the imposing surrounding landscape, we magnified its scale by constructing additional elements including a garage, a greenhouse, a shed, a power line, and a road. Together they formed a complex and contrasting silhouette against the mountains and the coast of the Barents Sea, nestled amongst the rocks. We also built the house bearing in my mind that the last and most expressive shot in the entire movie would be that of its destruction when the bulldozer tears out one of the walls, and the interior opens onto the landscape.

 In order to maximize the sense of scale, the elements of the complex were constructed side by side, making the whole seem much larger when viewed by the camera from the front. From all possible shooting angles, the various objects never overlap but form a chain of visual elements. Placed on the ledge of the mountain, the formation is meant to express a certain defensive function, in much the same way as the protagonist is trying to defend himself. The house is an inanimate part of the hero's persona.

 Some big elements were added to the house like boats, cars. We made two roads connecting house with over village. All trees, bushes and  mosses on the site we mounted there .

 Long before we started with the actual construction, we staged something like a rehearsal for it. We built a full-scale model of the entire set using light and easy-to-mount materials. We wanted to define exactly what the house orientation would be, the height of the windows, the scale, and the overall shape and size of the structure. This was the brilliant idea of Nikolay Rybtsev, the set-builder. By doing this we were able, first of all, to meticulously plan how we would construct the set precisely in alignment with what we had imagined, and secondly, we were able to address the challenge of the remoteness of the location. Teriberka is about 1500 km away from the nearest big city, making changes during construction a nightmare.

 It was only after we had completed the construction of the house that we found this photo in local archives. We were gratified to discover that our decision had been the right one. The original house that had previously been in that location, had stood in almost exactly the same place and had been the same shape. Of course, we hung the photo on the wall alongside the portraits of the hero's ancestors, the same wall that was torn down by the bulldozer.

 The house, at the moment of demolition.

  Teriberka served as an endless source of textures and architectural elements. Here, thanks to extremely active environment with winds and frosts, high humidity, materials grow old extremely fast, creating awesome deep and rich textures. In other side it is mass production wooden architecture, absolutely poor, strict and rational.

 The garage and the occupation of Nikolai remained to us from the source of the story. It was Marvin Himeer's rebellion against the authorities.

 The idea of a Leviathan came to us while we were scouting for locations to shoot in. Some local boys told us of a skeleton that they had seen on the coast. When we visited the site, we found that the skeleton itself was rather small and unimpressive. Nonetheless, it evoked in us the idea of making a whale skeleton a central theme in the film. Ultimately, the concept gave the film its name.

 Constructing a whale skeleton, which was to be set in the tidal zone and had to remain in place from fall through winter, was a real trial. Despite a lot of metal being used in the construction, the skeleton ended up with positive buoyancy and floated on the water. Twice a day the tide would come in and the structure would come loose from its moorings, which was a problem that we had to solve. To this end, during the low tides, we dug pits beneath the structure and placed heavy anchors under the skeleton to prevent it from moving from its place. The construction team, who camped in tents close by, took a week to finally overcome the problem.

 The church was built on the site of the torn-down house, on the site of Nikolay's stolen dream. The church entirely covers where the house had been, entirely eviscerating the memory and presence of the hero. In order to achieve this without making the church building itself appear inappropriately large and bulky, we built a large platform around the church, which served as an assembly point for churchgoers in the movie. By doing this we were able to cover the site of the original buildings while keeping the church to scale within the mighty landscape.

 The Teriberka and Serebryanskaya roads were the focus of many other shots, including the prologue and epilogue stills for the movie. This remote and magical environment provided an incredibly strong backdrop. This world acts as a being of endless power, a spirit in its own right, indifferent to the destinies and fates of people, pure and eternal.

Director Andrey Zvyagintsev

DOP Mikhail Krichman

Production Designer Andrey Ponkratov

Set Decorator Maxim

Props Alexandr Losovsky

Set Builder Nikolay Ryabtsev

Text edited by Robert Kursten