Loveless (Gold Coast Film Festival)
Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Matvey Novikov
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…Zvyagintsev shows us characters wasting their lives and becoming morally adrift…
Andrey Zvyagintsev, the Russian director, has only made a handful of films but each one has been so extraordinarily assured that film festivals constantly award him gongs and knowing cinephiles eagerly await his next work. His previous film, Leviathan (partly financed with state money) showed his ambivalent relationship to the current state of Mother Russia. The film offended the authorities so much that they suggested he apologise to the Russian people. That is actually a weird compliment to the power of his critique. Loveless is his apology then. Not.
It centres upon a young couple, Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin who was in Leviathan). They live busy lives in a modern European-styled apartment on the outskirts of the city. They have all the mod cons and seem to orientate their life to consumerism just like, seemingly, many other young Russians. They also have a twelve-year-old boy Alyosha (Matvey Novikov) but they are so busy arguing about their inevitable break up that they hardly seem to notice him. They both have new lovers to move on to and it seems that the only thing holding them back is the awkwardness of splitting. That, and their unloved son. When Alyosha goes missing, and the well-meaning but bureaucratic police tell them they do not expect to find him easily, the couple are stunned into re-assessment.
The film is many things; part police procedural thriller, part domestic drama, part social commentary. It is long, slow and deliberate but Zvyagintsev never puts a foot wrong and the themes of the film interleave and finally coalesce into a devastating whole. In some ways steering people to read the film politically does it a disservice. It is not a ‘political film’ in one sense at all. The politics are subtle and oblique. This is a sad and unsettling film, but it is also a beautifully realised piece of cinema. It is filled with a feeling of lament about the malaise that has hollowed out Putin’s authoritarian state, but it works on the heart not the mind.
Like Chekhov, Zvyagintsev shows us characters wasting their lives and becoming morally adrift, but he doesn’t merely blame them or make them caricatures to be manipulated from the outside. He is careful to show us how they got to where they are and there is a quietly insistent human sympathy for their plight and for the fate they don’t entirely deserve.