Winning best film at the London Film Festival and being Russia’s greatest chance of winning a feature gong at the Oscars since 1994 – before being pipped by Sebastián Lelio’s A Fantastic Woman – Loveless is Andrey Zvyagintsev’s first film since 2014’s excellent Leviathon.
Zhenya and Boris are in the middle of a particularly messy divorce. Hardly able to spend a minute in each other’s company without arguing, their 12 year old son Alyosha is stuck in the middle, hiding in his bedroom to escape his parent’s battles. One morning, when Zhenya returns from a night with her new lover – Boris is at his new girlfriend’s place too – she realises that Alyosha is missing. Grasping the fact that their son has been missing for 48 hours without either of them noticing, they approach the uninterested police, before getting a voluntary missing-children group to help with their search.
As with Leviathon, Zvyagintsev is more interested in exploring characters’ reactions to events rather then obsess over the narrative itself. Boris seems more concerned about his ultra-orthodox boss’s reaction to his divorce than the pregnancy of his new girlfriend or the fresh news of his son’s disappearance. Similarly Zhenya is fully committed to her new relationship with Anton, her son seemingly no more than an irritation back at home. Zvyagintsev’s reoccurring theme here is selfishness and over-bearing emotional self-regard. Yet what the director is becoming a master at is building up characters worthy of some level of moral contempt, before peeling back the cold layers to reveal their exposed underbelly. He loves to play with blame too; here is the ultimate nightmare for any parent – a missing child – yet the resolution of blame seems all-important, as if the resolution of culpability somehow allows a deniability of emotional response.
Russian cinema is perhaps best known for unfathomable socio-political sci-fi with Tarkofsky or German adapting Strugatsky Brother’s novels, yet Zvyagintsev is building an excellent line of emotionally suspect character pieces. Loveless is by no means an easy watch, but it is a film which rewards investment, gradually building up personalities and making its audience question emotional responses.
Review by Colin Lomas
Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Cast: Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Matvey Novikov, Marina Vasileva
Running Time: 127 Minutes