Andrey Zvyagintsev / Russia / 2017 / 127 mins
At Filmhouse Edinburgh now
Andrey Zvyagintsev returns just in time for Valentine’s Day with his fifth feature Loveless – the unnervingly bleak tale of the collapse of a marriage in modern-day Russia. Along with Romanian director Cristian Mungiu (Graduation), Zvyagintsev continues to make challenging social dramas that while small in scale, are epic in scope – often tackling politics, corruption and religion.
Set in late 2012, the film follows Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin), a morally bankrupt couple embroiled in a bitter divorce, and their shy and neglected 12-year-old son Alyosha (Matvey Novikov), who runs away after witnessing one of their embittered arguments. More focused on pursuing the new relationships that they are both in – Boris with his younger pregnant girlfriend and Zhenya with an older, well-off man, the couple fail to even realise their Alyosha has ran away until his school informs them he hasn’t been in for the last two days. Suddenly the couple are forced to start a desperate search for the child they merely viewed as a burden.
As with 2011’s Elena and 2014’s Leviathan, Zvyagintsev and co-writer Oleg Negin layer the film with an icy air of satire – attacking the detachment of modern society and our obsession with technology. The film is littered with scenes of people staring vacantly at their phones on the train or taking selfies, all the while on the television and radio there are news reports of political unrest and the Ukrainian War.
The foreboding sense of dread is made all the more unbearable with cinematography from long-time collaborator Mikhail Krichman, who has worked with Zvyagintsev since his debut The Return. There are hauntingly beautiful scenes of the search parties descending into the woods where the camera lingers in the distance, while in others the camera floats below the trees in an almost Terrence Malick dreamlike manner. This is enhanced further with long periods of silence with only the faint sound of birds or distant traffic.
As with all of Zvyagintsev’s work the acting is terrifically on point, especially from Spivak and Rozin – giving incredibly intense performances while still conveying the cold detachment of these characters. With little screen time, Novikov gives a very mature and nuanced depiction of a child in hopeless despair that leaves an affecting impression over the rest of the film.
While some may struggle with the unforgiving tone and the deplorable characters, Loveless is a heart-wrenching depiction of the complete collapse of a marriage and family and a devastating allegory of moral decay, with impeccable directing and no-holds-barred performances.