ALTHOUGH the disappearance of a young child lies at the heart of Loveless, there is much more to this magnificent film than the agonising search for a neglected and unloved young boy. Has he been murdered? Has he been kidnapped? And all the rest.
Directed by Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev (Leviathan, 2014) this tale probes into a multitude of issues. Some are specific to Russia – its ‘war’ in the Ukraine and the overbearing presence of the State and the Orthodox church in Russian society. But most of the issues tackled involve the world we all now find ourselves in. One that is fixated with social media, the portrayal of self, vanity – and a resulting society that so often chips away at family values. As a result, more times than not, relationships end up loveless and produce endless cruelty along the way.
It makes on occasion for tough viewing but Loveless represents filmmaking at its very best. It has the pace of a thriller and asks many questions of the viewer. Depressing? Yes but it is the world we live in and have carved out for ourselves. Honest cinema. Essential, unflinching, entrancing and hypnotic. It pricks your conscience at every twist and turn.
Apart from the son Alyosha (Matvey Novikov) who goes missing in the middle of an acrimonious marriage break up between vainglorious Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Alexei Rozin), there are few characters in this two hour film that you will like. Maybe the perceptive and persevering individual who organises the hunt for Alyosha, but that is about it.
Zhenya and Boris are dreadful people. Zhenya, who may as well be married to her phone, is self-obsessed. She has no time for Alyosha and has found a rich older man to keep her accustomed to the life she demands. Fine dining, personal pampering (plenty of waxing) and rampant sex (even if it leaves boyfriend Anton – Andris Keiss – somewhat frazzled) are all that she wants. To hell with Alyosha.
Boris is no better. Bored at work, his girlfriend (played by Yanina Hope) is heavily pregnant. It does not stop them having sex, but it is already obvious that there are seeds of doubt forming in the girlfriend’s mind about Boris’s commitment to their relationship. She is perceptive as evidenced by a shocking scene towards the end of the film when Boris treats his newly born child with utter contempt.
Both Zhenya and Boris are bothered by mothers or mother-in-laws. Zhenya’s mother is as vile as the daughter she has produced. The mother of Boris’s girlfriend lives in the same apartment as her daughter, adding to the tension between the three of them. Both mothers are smothering and overbearing matriarchs.
When Alyosha goes missing, it is more a nuisance to Boris and Zhenya than a concern.
Indeed, the only time Zhenya shows any form of emotion is when she is asked to look at the body of a young boy in the morgue. Boris is slightly more involved. Initially, he is more worried about having to take time off work and keeping from his deeply religious boss the fact that he is getting divorced (an act deeply frowned upon). But he does eventually join in the hunt for his son.
The search for Alyosha is painstaking, involving the searching of woods, local flats and buildings and a once grand building that has long been derelict – another sign of the decline in Russian society.
There are so many moments in this film that will linger long in the mind – Zhenya on the treadmill situated on the balcony of her boyfriend’s apartment staring blankly ahead. A phone number casually being given out to a woman (an escort) in a restaurant. Attractive women taking selfies galore. All incidental moments, but which combined make the whole so wholesome.
But it is the tear that slowly drips from Alyosha’s eye while his parents squabble and the family home is sold from under his feet that is the defining moment of the film. It is heart-breaking. A young boy lost, lonely and loveless. Never wanted and barely tolerated. An individual whose soul had vanished long before his unexplained disappearance.
Loveless is a quite brilliant film, beautifully shot. The way Zvyagintsev is quite happy to allow the camera to linger draws the viewer in and builds up the tension. He does it right from the start while we patiently wait for the school day to finish and the kids (Alyosha included) to drift home.
This is magnificent Russian fare from a director who knows how to serve up cinematic caviar. Go and see it – but not before switching off your mobile phone and promising to take no more selfies for 24 hours.