Shown through a couple’s reactions to the disappearance of their son, Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless (Nelyubov) is a crushing comment on a loveless society and its people.
Gimme Shelterby Alexa Dalby
CAUTION: Here be spoilers
A couple going through an acrimonious divorce are selling their flat in a bleak concrete block. Their terrible, ugly, shouted arguments reveal that neither of them wants to take their 12-year-old son Alexei when they split up, they never wanted him, and they even think of putting him in a home. As the camera pans back, we see the boy (Matvey Novikov) caught in a silent scream of misery, sobbing, because he has overheard all this.
Boris (Alexei Rozin) and Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) are each spending time with their new relationships – Boris with a younger, demanding pregnant girlfriend and Zhenya with a middle-class, better-off older man with a grown-up daughter, who takes her to upmarket restaurants and gives her the lifestyle she craves. Until Alexei’s school phones, they don’t even realise that he’s been missing for two days, so indifferent to him are they. They are forced now to try and find the missing boy. The uncaring police think he’ll come home and so won’t act; instead they recommend a volunteer agency that deals exclusively with missing persons, who go into concerned overdrive. The rest of the film is taken up with the meticulous, practised procedure of their search and the way it transitions as the days pass from scouring derelict buildings and stairwells to hospitals and morgues, as belief starts to fade that the boy can still be alive. Incidental to this is a visit to Zhenya’s estranged mother, Alexei’s grandmother, to discount the possbility that Alexei is hiding with her, which unleashes an outburst of hatred of such venom and bile that it explains much about how Zhenya became the person she is, and shows the underlying misery of her mother that she conceals.
Loveless, following on from his Leviathan, is director Zvyagintsev’s intense portrait of a society gone terribly wrong, a loveless society, where decent human emotions are distorted and perverted by bureaucracy, and the desire for status and money. The boy’s parents react to his disappearance more as an inconvenience to their plans to move on with their new lives than as a family tragedy. Only the volunteers who search for the boy seem to have compassion. Meanwhile, a sharp change in the weather creates heavy snowfalls and freezing temperatures – the graceful tree branches by the river that we saw Alexei walk along at the start are replaced by dull skies and whirling snow that obliterates the bleak, grey blocks in a city of cold hearts. There’s a shot of Zhenya running on a treadmill in the snow that seems to encapsulate the pointlessness of it all.
Rage, hatred, unhappiness and life in cramped conditions – all are part of the unnatural mix of contemporary Russian society in Zvyagintsev’s bleak and chilling vision.
Loveless premiered in the Official Selection at the 70th Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Jury Prize, screened in the 61st BFI London Film Festival, where it won Best Film and is released on 9 February 2018 in the UK.