LOVELESS

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev

Stars: Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Matvey Novikov.

A rather grim and bleak view of life in contemporary Russia, Loveless focuses on an unhappy family. Zhenya (Maryana Spivak in her feature film debut) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin, from Leviathan, etc) are a couple trapped in a loveless marriage and are in the throes of a bitter divorce. Their cramped apartment is full of tension and vicious arguments. Neither of them seems keen on taking custody of their lonely and introverted 12-year old son Alyosha (newcomer Matvey Novikov). He hears the regular arguments and is distressed by the acrimonious atmosphere. Then one day Alyosha disappears.

Absorbed with their own lives, the parents don’t notice his absence for a couple of days. A massive search is undertaken, but with the police too busy to get involved a group of volunteers search through dilapidated buildings and the local forest. But Alyosha’s whereabouts remain a mystery, which adds an element of tension to the domestic drama which exposes the toxic relationship between his parents who have themselves come from loveless backgrounds.

Boris is preoccupied with his position at work. His deeply religious boss requires his employees to be married, and he worries that the news of his impending divorce will leak out and cost him his job. Mean while Zenya spends a lot of time on her treadmill, ironically running fast but getting nowhere.

Loveless is the new film from director Andrey Zvyagintsev, whose previous films like Leviathan have cast a rather critical eye over Russian society and found it lacking in compassion and warmth. He casts an unforgiving eye over his native Russia in this rather heart wrenching film. Loveless serves up a bleak picture of a dysfunctional society in decay. The cold, austere and grey widescreen cinematography from regular cinematography Mikhail Krichman is stunning and casts a pall over the material that adds to the relentlessly downbeat tone and atmosphere. Krichman also works with long static takes and he gives us some chilling imagery.

Zvyagintsev effectively uses silence to enhance the palpable sense of unease. An appropriately ominous score from Evgeniy Galperin also adds to the grim mood. Zvyagintsev’s attention to detail is faultless, and the production design from regular collaborator Andrey Ponkratov evokes the austerity of the setting.  

Zvyagintsev has stated that Berman’s 1974 classic Scenes From A Marriage was an influence on this film. Loveless is an emotionally draining film and is tough to sit through. Its two lead characters are damaged and selfish. The performances from Spivak and Rozin are superb, and they bring these cold and unlikeable characters to life and make them three dimensional.

However, with a running time of 123 minutes the film is a little too slow moving and static to sustain interest for the duration. It’s lack of a definitive conclusion may well frustrate many. Loveless will appeal to art house audiences and should do well on the festival circuit.

★★★

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