Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev
Starring Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Matvey Novikov
Contrary to the film’s title, there is indeed love (romantic, sexual, and otherwise) in this film – it’s just a certain brand of love at the expense of others. The parents in Loveless demonstrate strong, affectionate, co-dependent love (for their extra-marital partners), but not for their son, who goes missing the morning after an argument between this couple on the very brink of separation.
The estranged husband and wife, Boris (Aleksey Rozin) and Zhenya (Maryana Spivak), are trying to make headway with their divorce (made tricky by the restrictive powers that be), all the while approaching each other with only nothing less than throat-grabbing hostility and teeth-clenching resentment, cocooning themselves away in the pleasures of social media and their own love affairs, and brushing off their only child, 12 year old Alyosha (Matvey Novikov), as a mere inconvenience.
When Alyosha disappears, the search for him proves to be an overwhelming act that further separates the couple rather than brings them closer together. Both actors do a tremendous job playing their increasingly hateful characters. Rozin plays a more droll and withdrawn Boris, who seems somewhat disconnected from it all as he continues to sleepwalk through his everyday life. By contrast Spivak feels like more of the emotional entre, managing to tap into a painful, yet ambiguous kind of grief, as well as her head-over-heels love for her new boyfriend (that doesn’t assuage her hatefulness).
They enlist the help of a volunteer organization that specializes in searching diligently for missing children, whose emotionally reserved and disconnected, yet selfless empathetic work seem to be the only bright sign of humanity in this vast murky area of inhumane helplessness and hopelessness.
It’s a very simple story that very simply plays out, yet there’s a nagging and resonating sense from watching this story unfold that it’s tapping into a wider culture and likely into a universal theme. Writer-director Andrey Zvyagintsev goes all-out with his devastating portrayal of this parent couple, who are clearly more interested in an easy-going self-satisfying love rather than a hard-working love – as is demonstrated when family tensions get even more fraught when the parents look for the child at Zhenya’s estranged mother’s house, showing that this selfish love-hate dynamic that ruins families is generational.
As great as an intense (and intensely depressing) family drama this is, it is also technically astonishingly. Every shot is perfectly composed, with the breezy outdoor scenes really capturing the unrelenting Russian coldness, and the indoor scenes are unforgettably filmed in just enough early morning darkness to reveal only a careful amount of the characters within these scenes.
All of this, along with some well-placed dread-inducing music, adds up to a haunting film experience and a simple story that still manages to play upon the audiences’ expectations. Loveless isn’t a grueling experience, as it’s a somehow captivating look at this particular relationship in this particular part of the world – although it all feels like it’s building up to a purposeful conclusion, the real purpose is in every scene, revealing a dark aspect of selective love and hate that goes deep into the society and the individual.