Be2Can Review: No Love Lost in Zvyagintsev's Nihilistic ‘Loveless’

Be2Can Review: No Love Lost in Zvyagintsev's Nihilistic ‘Loveless’

In Loveless, the latest film from Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev (Leviathan, The Return), a family in the midst of a divorce is forced to confront an unimaginable scenario and their own self-serving vanity, paralleling a society that has clearly lost its way.

The title is apt: there is no love left in a failed marriage between Zhenya (the striking Maryana Spivak, making her live-action feature debut) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin, who starred in Leviathan), after Boris has impregnated another woman. 

And, dishearteningly, there’s no love between either of the parents and their own child, 12-year-old Alyosha (Matvey Novikov). In one of the film’s most traumatic scenes, Zhenya and Boris viciously argue about who will take care of the boy - neither of them want to - while Alyosha overhears them from the bathroom, tears streaming down his face. 

The boy does what might be expected, but it’s two days before either of his parents know that he’s gone, each consumed with their own pathetic lives: Boris with his new girlfriend (Yanina Hope), and Zhenya with her new beau, Anton (Andris Keiss).

Much of the rest of the movie follows a familiar missing-persons path, but by no means less pointed than what has preceded it. The parents come together to search for their missing child, but are never able to get past themselves; in one of the film’s most telling scenes, during the search for their lost son, Zhenya tells Boris that she should have listened to her mother and had an abortion. 

Zvyagintsev doesn’t spare the other characters in the film, either. The police are of little help, and an investigator bluntly tells them he lacks the resources to search for a runaway when there are more important crimes to solve. 

The filmmaker is ruthless in his takedown of modern society, and never misses an opportunity to pause during the investigation and take in the surrounding world of women taking duckface selfies, sleazy men picking up hostesses before kissing their wives, and passers-by glancing at missing child posters before going on with their lives. 

The one character that feels spared from Zvyagintsev’s bitter gaze is the no-nonsense coordinator of a volunteer group looking for the missing child, portrayed by Aleksey Fateev. He throws not an iota of sympathy towards the parents as he goes about his business, world-weary of what has come before and what he can expect in the future. 

After The Return, Zvyagintsev’s moody and symbolic debut, the director drew comparisons to the legendary Russian director Andrey Tarkovsky. His latest films, however, are as far removed from Tarkovsky’s spiritual treatises as possible: Loveless hits the viewer like a guttural punch. 

Throughout the film, we hear reports over the radio about the Russian invasion of Crimea, the 2012 U.S. election, and other assorted news items. Clearly, this worldview is not isolated to these characters and their particular situation.

Tapped by many critics to win the Palme D’or at Cannes this year, Loveless instead came away with the Jury Prize when The Square was chosen as a surprise winner. The same fate befell Leviathan, which lost out to Winter Sleep back in 2014. 

With his last two pictures, Zvyagintsev has firmly asserted himself as one of the finest directors working in Russia. While both films are (appropriately) bleak and may not appeal to all audiences, they are clearly the work of a master filmmaker. 

Screened in Prague at this year’s Be2Can film fest, Loveless will see wide release in the Czech Republic from January 18.

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