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Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless is a film with a brutally informative adjective for a title. It applies to the toxic, failed relationship at the heart of the drama, but also to everything around the unhappy man and woman, to the very air that they breathe. Modern, aspirational Russia seems in this film to be grasping, unforgiving, a spiritual wasteland of materialism and selfie narcissism, like a distant planet that has lost the means to support life. It is a stark, mysterious, painful film in the high European tradition of Bergman, Antonioni and Haneke.
Boris (Alexey Rozin) and Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) are a couple who are splitting up, but must for the time being share the cramped apartment they are selling. Both have found new partners and now quarrel endlessly. It is a truly horrible atmosphere for their 12-year-old son Alyosha (Matvey Novikov) who at some level realises that he is somehow at fault – by having a child too early, the couple effectively destroyed their chances of happiness together. This boy is in agony. One day he goes missing. But it is clear that he has vanished spiritually long before.
And what can the couple do about it? Does this terrible emergency bring them closer together? Does this traumatic psychological impact at least dislodge them from their moral stagnancy and paralysis? Well, not obviously. In fact, it seems to intensify and diversify their rage and fear and hate. There is an unforgettably eerie scene when a search party organised by local well-wishers – the police being far too jaded and bureaucratic to set up anything of the kind – goes through some woodland looking for Alyosha and comes across an abandoned building, which looks as if it might have been the kind of upscale property that Boris and Zhenya had individually dreamed of inhabiting once they had disencumbered themselves of current marriage.
The endgame for this nightmare comes when the police discover bodies of various boys and the couple are called on to make an identification. Him? Not him? These scenes themselves, which appear to have a gut-wrenching ambiguity, are almost unwatchable.
Since this film appeared at Cannes in 2017 and was released here this year, Russia has hardly been out of the headlines: Trump, kompromat, novichok, Ukraine. But it is not just a question of western dislike. There are passionate, engaged, dissenting voices within Russia. Zvyagintsev is one of them.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: The 50 best films of 2018 in the US: No 3 – Loveless | World cinema