Starring Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Matvey Novikov
Following up his haunting and Oscar nominated Leviathan, writer/director Andrey Zvyagintsev returns with another look at bleak, modern Russian life. Loveless is a character study, examining two divorcing parents, neither of which want custody of their child. The details and elements of the film are heartbreaking, but Zvyagintsev spends so much time detailing the personas, it takes a while for the plot to form. Eventually the plot shifts into a new dreary gear, yet again, what the viewer experiences is more observation than anything. Zvyagintsev’s films portray Russia like a dark prison, no sunlight, cold with all the citizens trapped inside.
“Send him to boarding school, then the army”, Zhenya (Spivak) says, feuding with her soon-to-be ex-husband Boris (Rozin) over the fate of their child Alexei (Novikov). What they don’t know, or perhaps don’t care, is the 12-year-old hears the conversation, crying silently in a nearby room of the apartment. Boris rescued Zhenya from a cruel mother, they married has a child, so he could secure a high paying job that requires male employees to have a family. Now both want other things, have found other partners, but Alexei is a nagging problem for both. After two days of being with their respective lovers, Zhenya returns home, to find her son missing.
Loveless also isn’t some cinematic masterpiece, it doesn’t have the vistas or appeal of the filmmaker’s previous work.
The cruelest irony of the story occurs when Zhenya explains to new boyfriend, her mother never cuddled her or said anything nice. That’s the moment the audience loses any compassion for this monstrous character. The father isn’t much better, but the script focuses more on mom’s emotional cruelty, she can’t stop talking about how she regrets turning down the abortion. “Repulsed at birth”, she describes the day her son was born. The laborious character exposition eats up an hour of screen time, normally this would be just dull and boring. Yet here these characters cruelty is oddly compelling in a horror story way. The last hour of the movie is a search for Alexei, even less interesting than the character development, we just simply watch the parents search for their child.
Loveless is similar to the American film Prisoners, which follows the harrowing story of two kidnapped girls. The parents in Prisoners are fueled by love and anguish over their missing loved ones, while Loveless shows us the other side of such a situation. When the film is over, the characters haven’t changed, everything is still the same. Perhaps that is the ultimate point of the movie, but it’s not satisfying. Loveless also isn’t some cinematic masterpiece, it doesn’t have the vistas or appeal of the filmmaker’s previous work.
Loveless is compelling, until all the chips are on the table, then it becomes unforgivably bleak and burdensome.