Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev
Written by Oleg Negin & Andrey Zvyagintsev
When one thinks of Russia, it’s often not with warm feelings. It’s a very cold and barren country in most people’s minds. While that is partially true, mostly thanks to the arctic wasteland that is Siberia, Russia is not all that way. They have culture, they have landscape. They have history. But cold is still a decent adjective to describe Russia today. As Americans, we have viewed the Russians as enemies since, well forever it seems. That’s mostly true, but also somewhat made up. Vladimir Putin is certainly a villain type, and under his regime, Russia has become more secluded and more cold with each passing day it should seem. But they are still human, and I’m sure some of them are warm. Maybe.
Alyosha (Matvey Novikov) is a curious young boy whose parents are going through a difficult divorce. Each parent is evil and calculating in their own way. Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) is a self-absorbed woman who runs a spa, regretful that Boris (Aleksey Rozin) ever got her pregnant when they were young, yearning for a new life where she can do what she wants to do. Boris on the other hand is taking the divorce poorly, struggling to find a way to smooth things over with his workplace, which is strictly Christian and looks down on employees who end up divorced. Both turn their attention away from each other, and from Aloysha, instead focusing on burgeoning new loves who serve their wishes. As a result, Aloysha turns up missing from the neglect, and they must try to come together to search and find their son.
Loveless from Andrey Zvyagintsev, who drew acclaim for his 2014 film Leviathan, is exactly as it sounds: completely loveless. As a result, it is not an easy watch, and certainly a recipe for the viewer to grow to hate and hate the main characters of the narrative, as I did. For this reason, Loveless is anything but pleasant. As we enter into the life of this small, broken family, we quickly learn what makes each of them tick. Zhenya is superficial and buried in her phone, oblivious to what might be happening around her at any given time, which is likely also why she takes up with an older man who welcomes her company without strings attached, likely without the desire to build a family. Boris is similar in many ways, concerned only with his status at work and maintaining his relationship with his new girlfriend, who also happens to be pregnant with his child.
These are bad people. And I hate bad people. Seeing them in movies, seeing their stories is infuriating to me. It makes the movie going experience devoid of any soul and happiness. It’s not fun, not fun at all. A depressing and heavy subject matter, like the one found within the narrative of Loveless, is a slog to get through. Sitting through this movie was no easy task, but that doesn’t also mean it wasn’t a sharply made film. From a technical standpoint, the film is great, no doubt. But emotionally I was consistently kept too distant, and the relationships depicted on screen are far too cold for me to be able to call this a great movie, as many others have already (it garnered an Academy Award nomination in the Foreign Language category).
But the allegory for the Russian state is something that does not go unnoticed. In fact, Zvyagintsev even concludes the film with a character zipping up an overly colorful Russia sweatsuit to climb onto the treadmill. This obvious correlation with the issues with the current state, and the neglect of the people and self-centeredness in an era of globalization, works, even if it’s handfed in the end. This revelation redeems the film somewhat, but in the end, I still struggled to enjoy the experience of this movie, as depressing and heavy as it was from start to finish, as pointed as its commentary was, I just can’t fully get on board with what Zvyagintsev is doing with Loveless. It’s a film to appreciate and, ironically, not love.