Loveless

From Russia, without love?
Verdict: 
9/10 - Loveless offers up a grim insight into modern Russia, and while it is hard to watch at times, ultimately proves to be entralling.
Release Date: 
Friday, February 9, 2018
Written by: 

Loveless follows the story of an estranged Russian couple whose pre-teen son disappears after he witnesses one of their arguments.

9

With a gripping plot and poignant imagery, it's no surprise that Loveless has been nominated for the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film.

Yet, Andrey Zvyagintsev's latest project is by no means popcorn viewing, winding together an incredibly bleak tale of a divorcing couple with a commentary on modern-day Russia.

Set in wintertime Moscow, the narrative concerns Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin) as they negotiate the terms of their separation, including dividing their assets, and the custody of their pre-teen son Alexey (Matvey Novikov).

It quickly becomes apparent that both parents have moved on from their acrimonious marriage, with Zhenya dating a wealthy older man named Anton (Andris Keiss) and Boris living part-time with his heavily-pregnant girlfriend Masha (Marina Vasileva).

Impatient to start their new lives, neither wants the responsibility of looking after young Alexey, and while providing him with the necessities of life, they are emotionally distant and verbally abusive.

In one particularly gut-wrenching scene, the boy literally becomes invisible to Zhenya, as she doesn't even notice him weeping in a corner while she stomps into their bathroom during a disagreement.

Each parent uses the threat of abandoning Alexey as a bargaining tactic, and whether or not they were serious, he overhears their arguments and disappears.

Finally showing concern, Zhenya and Boris are brought back together, and join police officers and volunteer teams in the search for their child - with it becoming glaringly apparent just how neglectful they had been as parents with each passing second.

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Yes, the story is grim, but this film isn't simple a missing-person procedural, as Zvyagintsev deftly weaves in various themes such as dysfunctional families, the demand for love and freedom, the use of social media as a distraction from real life, the conflict between traditional and modern society as well as willingness to conform, as represented by Boris feeling concerned about what his Christian bosses will think of his decision to divorce.

There are also plot threads relating to the under-resourced police, child kidnapping rings, nationalism, and concerns about tensions on the Russia-Ukraine border.

All the actors give strong, raw and convincing performances, with Spivak particularly infuriating, Rozin painfully stoic, and Novikov drawing empathy for his dire for his situation.

It is Mikhail Krichman's cinematography though, that really reflects the tension of each moment, with slow zooms on stationary objects and people, eerie wide shots on snow-covered outer city slums, and lingering pans across shadowy bedrooms.

All the elements come together to create an utterly bleak movie, which is often uncomfortable, but also entirely memorable.

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