Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Cast: Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Marina Vasilyeva, Andris Keiss, Aleksey Fateev, Matvey Novikov, Sergey Dvoinikov, Natalia Vinokurova
MPAA Rating: (for strong sexuality, graphic nudity, language and a brief disturbing images)
Running Time: 2:07
Release Date: 12/1/17 (limited); 2/16/18 (wider)
Review by Mark Dujsik | December 7, 2017
Co-writer/director Andrey Zvyagintsev's Loveless is a dispiriting experience, not because of the disdain the main characters have for each other, but because that disdain is a transparent cover for the characters' complete lack of feeling for anything or anyone beyond themselves. We know that the opposite of love isn't hate. It's apathy. Here are two people, a couple on the verge of a divorce, who make a good show of having an interest in other people when it's convenient for them. They might even believe that they're emotionally invested in certain relationships. Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin's screenplay picks away at those self-created illusions until we see the hard, depressing truth.
It's especially depressing because Boris (Aleksey Rozin) and Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) don't have much going for them. Sure, Boris has a job, where he sits in front of a computer screen all day and is paid well enough, but it's obvious there's no fulfillment to this. It's a job for a paycheck, and because his employer is a fundamentalist Christian, there's a distinct possibility that he could be fired if word of his divorce reaches the higher-ups. Such a situation has happened there before, and where would he be then?
If Zhenya has a job, we never see her at it. She seems to spend most of her time on her cellphone, doing little of anything in her apartment, and going to a beauty salon to gossip about her husband and her new lover. She genuinely loves the new guy, she says. According to her, it's the only time Zhenya has loved anyone and anyone has loved her—except, maybe, her mother, although that relationship is now a distant, uncommunicative one.
All of this is comfortable enough for each of them, and "comfortable enough" seems to be their only goal in life. There's a scene near the end of the film of a character running on a treadmill, and it seems like an apt visual metaphor for these characters' lives: moving but going nowhere.
Everything else is a distraction or an obstacle to that comfort, which is, as far as we can tell, their only measure of happiness. At some point, Boris and Zhenya became obstacles to each other. We can't pinpoint the exact moment or event, because the film begins with the divorce under way. The breaking point, we can guess, came with Boris' affair with a younger woman. Zhenya suggests it came well before that, when she discovered she was pregnant early into her relationship with Boris.
Yes, there's a child involved in all of this. That seems like an important detail to save until this far into a discussion of the film, but it's appropriate. The kid, a 12-year-old son named Alexey (Matvey Novikov), is like a ghost in his own home. Our introduction to the story arrives through the boy, as he walks home from school, takes a detour through the woods, and makes a ribbon with a stick and some caution tape. It's the first and last time we'll ever see him close to happy. After that, he's angry, because people are coming to look at his apartment home, which his parents are selling. He's silently ignored, eating breakfast as Zhenya watches TV. He's hiding behind a door while his parents have yet another fight. They don't notice him, but Zvyagintsev forces us to see him—his face covered in tears and in the midst of a frightfully quiet sob.
The plot involves Alexey's sudden disappearance. Neither of his parents notice it at first. Boris was with Masha (Marina Vasilyeva), his new and pregnant girlfriend, because her mother is away, and they have her apartment to themselves. Zhenya was with Anton (Andris Keiss), her new boyfriend, for dinner at a fancy restaurant and spirited sex at his place.
They only learn that their son is missing when his school calls to inform them that he wasn't there that day. Zhenya calls the police, and Boris stays at work, convinced that it will all work out soon. A volunteer organization is called in to coordinate the search.
The rest of the film follows that search, and it's fascinating to watch how these characters, who have been so firmly established as uncaring and inattentive to their son, change and how they do not change. There's concern, of course, but how much of it is simply a show—their performance of how a parent in supposed to act under these circumstances? The fact that we can even consider such a possibility is a testament to how well Zvyagintsev and Negin, as writers, and Rozin and Spivak, as actors, have established these characters. We're left looking more for any sincere sign of worry and less for the various ways in which Boris and Zhenya display their lack of concern. It's subtle, to be sure, such as the various excuses each one makes, the retreats to their respective lovers, and the repeated attempts to avoid doing too much work.
Are they heartless? This is, perhaps, the most pressing question. There is also a possibility that, by the end of the film, their behavior, which almost exactly resembles their personalities before Alexey's disappearance, is the result of their ordeal. That might be too optimistic an outlook, though. We have to take what we're given from a film, and Loveless offers no such hope for the redemption of these characters or a straightforward answer to the mystery. It's a bleak future, but sadly, that seems to be what they want.
Copyright © 2017 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.
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