Loveless (2017)

Review #1,531

Director:  Andrei Zvyagintsev 
Cast:  Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Matvey Novikov
Plot:  A couple going through a divorce must team up to find their son who has disappeared during one of their bitter arguments.

Genre:  Drama
Awards:  Won Jury Prize (Cannes).  Nom. for 1 Oscar - Best Foreign Language Film
Runtime:  127 mins
Rating:  R21 (passed clean) for strong sexuality, graphic nudity, language and a brief disturbing image.
International Sales:  Wild Bunch

Andrei Zvyagintsev is one of my favourite directors working today.  His latest, Loveless, which won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival, may not come close to his superior masterwork, Leviathan (2014), but it is still an excellent film for what it is worth.  His fifth feature to date could also be one of 2017’s bleakest films, an unrelenting portrait of a marriage in tatters amid a family crisis.  

Centering on a married couple who are on the verge of divorce, Loveless, as its name suggests, throws warmth (being set in the wintry cold doesn’t help the film) and compassion out of the window.  In the middle of the marital maelstrom is a young 12-year old boy, the couple’s son who has lived all his years without receiving any real affection.  

One day, he goes missing… and the film made in a style that resembles that of an investigative procedural, only that it is less about asking questions and piecing clues together, but of searching natural and urban spaces, which Zvyagintsev’s favourite cinematographer Mikhail Krichman has a knack for depicting via his trademark sombre visuals.

Loveless is not just about the toxicity of marital bitterness from a microscopic view, but through little details such as news commentaries that occasionally occur in the background, they reveal the outside world beyond Russia.  Set in 2012, we hear news of Russia’s armed conflict with Ukraine, causing thousands of innocent deaths; the political situation in the United States, amongst others.  

Such is Zvyagintsev’s tightly-controlled narrative that these news reports feel like a footnote—even the characters don’t react to them.  They, of course, don’t care what’s happening in the world, when domestically, they are drowning in a cesspool themselves.  Any allegory to Russia’s socio-political situation couldn’t have been made more obvious in an inconspicuous way.  Likewise, the world continues on—does it even bother about this particular self-destructing family?  Perhaps one could see Loveless as an exercise in the cinematic treatment of apathy.

However, what strikes me—and this acts as a counterpoint in the film—is a sense of community as volunteers for a grassroots social initiative that helps families find missing children provide collective aid.  The contrast between this group of people and the nonchalant state police couldn’t have been any greater.  

The film’s masterstroke comes from the delight of admiring how the macro and the micro are intertwined so delicately that you don't quite see the different shades of grey, but one rich shade that hides or reveals the complexities beneath it, producing a feeling of inevitability, as if one is careening off a steep cliff in slow-motion, while at the same time, being aware of the emotions of his vulnerable characters.  

Verdict:  Zvyagintsev’s unrelenting portrait of a marriage in tatters amid a family crisis could be one of 2017’s bleakest films.





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