Loveless, Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s follow up to the Oscar-nominated Leviathan, truly lives up to its name. Bleak in both style and tone, the epic drama follows the disappearance of a young boy (Matvey Novikov) and the effect it has on his mother Zhenya (Maryana Spivak), his father Boris (Aleksey Rozin), and their respective lovers.
The film implicates its audience in its social commentary—the gratuity of the film’s elongated final shot makes that pretty clear. But it is Zvyagintsev’s sense of deliberate form that allows Loveless, this wallowing, dismal journey of a film, a liveliness.
As unassuming as they are, the first images establish everything the film will need to state its case. Dying trees sit under the weight of snow, some of them snapped and hanging precarious over a pond. Then, the silence of nature is broken by the innocence of children. The images juxtaposed, the film could rightfully end here.
From here, there is a portion of the film that takes place inside this family’s apartment. It is filmed with an attention to space and deliberate movement. We get a fascinating sense of the cramped nature of the young boy’s life.
Later, the film will overstay its welcome with the vicious circle that is the pursuit of this lost child, the uneasy rise of hopelessness becoming numbing and less effective over time. But until then Zvyagintsev paints a beautifully monochrome portrait of broken relationships in Russia.
Loveless is not so much a film about the separation of people as it is about a separation of love as a concept. The film presents two halves of what make up love that are, by some cruel irony, oxymoronic in relation to one another. What is left from the reverse magnetism of these two forces is the eponymous lovelessness. The characters may only have one half at a time, the absent half breeding a wound that slowly festers.
In theory, this thematic idea is nothing new. It is your convention of romantic tragedy: wanting what you don’t have then missing what you left behind once its gone. But Zvyagintsev approaches this convention with such a battered humanism that there is nothing conventional in its presentation.
Loveless is bleak and atmospheric, balanced with a deliberate gait from scene to scene, and acted with unrelenting vigor thanks to Spivak. It teeters in its second half as the slow burn pacing becomes more monotonous than the film can afford, but Zvyagintsev nevertheless provides another poignant piece.
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—Alex Brannan (@TheAlexBrannan)