As I suspected it would be, Andrey Zvyagintsev‘s Loveless is a chilly, anguished and entirely brilliant film. Sad but so good. Every shot, every frame, every line is dead cold honest — it deals straight cards without a smidgen of bullshit. Plus it’s beautiful to look at and exquisitely performed. It’s a story about a marriage gone bad — a moribund mismatch, utterly ruined — and a 12 year-old boy, the emotionally aloof son of this mournful couple, gone missing. But like Leviathan, Loveless is about much more than just the tale.
It deals in specifics (certainly in terms of finely-drawn character and investigative logistics when it comes to searching for the boy) but it delivers a rich, reflective look at everything and everyone under the gray Russian skies. It’s about the whole undertow of Russian life right now, or more specifically five years ago as it takes place in 2012 — a capturing of things not right and depleted, of self-absorption and a lack of wholeness and fulfillment, a case of bitterness and uncertainty and a general sense of downswirl, the whole current of a culture no longer thriving with spirit and tradition and togetherness but starting to fray from a lack of these things.
If Leviathan was about Russian corruption from the top down and a populace drowning in hopelessness and vodka, Loveless is about spiritual attrition through vanity, selfishness, manipulation and too many ambivalent, disloyal people seething and shouting and staring at smartphone screens. Or into the abyss.
For me, Loveless is somber and dazzling at the same time. By no means a feel-good thing but definitely a movie that you’ll believe and trust in every way imaginable, and in that sense it’s the kind of immersive experience that you can’t help but feel nurtured by and delighted with. I was 100% engaged and enthralled. Hell, I was spellbound.
Zyagintsev is a major-league, genius-level hombre, no question, and this movie is another serving of that recipe, that stew, that vibe that makes you lean forward in your seat and just go “wow, I need to see this again as soon as possible.” Is that “entertainment”? For me it is. Will the megaplexers have the same reaction? Of course not. They’re too dull and stupid to get a movie like this, but if you have even a shred of longing for the rock-solid elements that Zvyagintsev’s Loveless, Leviathan and Elena provide, it’ll fill you up like a big juicy steak.
Even if you come away thinking “this is obviously good and commanding but not quite the knockout that Leviathan was” (which, to be honest, some journos were saying in the upstairs foyer after tonight’s screening), it’s still wowser. Either you get this or you don’t.
Sony Pictures Classics has acquired distribution rights, and will most likely screen it in Telluride and Toronto and get good award-season traction. If you ask me the Academy will have no choice but to at least nominate Loveless for Best Foreign Language Oscar. No choice! You can claim it doesn’t quite deliver the grand operatic juice of Leviathan, but it’s a masterpiece all the same, and there’s no denying that right now Zvyagintsev is peaking the way Michelangelo Antonioni was in the early to mid ’60s.
Bearded, morose Boris (Alexei Rozin) and his soon-to-be-ex-wife Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) can barely stand each other. Whatever semblance of love they may have once had is out the window. Their son (Matvey Novikov) is a gloomhead, largely, one gathers, because he feels detachment and resentment from both parents. They got married when Zhenya became pregnant with him. She was mainly looking to escape her previous situation, and was never really in love with Boris to begin with. For a while the marriage was okay, and then it wasn’t.
And yet Boris and Zhenya are about to embark on new lives with new lovers. Boris has a pretty blonde girlfriend who’s carrying his child and Zhenya is in love with a decent, well-off older guy whom she wants to marry. But they’re still living together as the film begins, and the home vibes are hell. After an especially vicious argument their son bolts out of their apartment and doesn’t return. The cops are called in, ineffectively, and so the parents turn to a well-organized, all-volunteer organization that helps to find missing children.
That’s all I’m going to share plot-wise, but, as noted, it’s what you absorb about the entire stream of Russia’s modern malaise, delivered with a hundred choice bits and revelations and spot-on character brushstrokes, that gives Loveless its weight and gravitas. It’s a capturing of Russian culture, Russian life, Russian anguish. The same elements that seem to be sucking the life out of too many American families are well embedded in Russia also, and man, it puts the chill in. But the artistry that went into Loveless is something to see and feel and wade into.