Review: Loveless

11 April 2018

It may not be the bleakest film you’ve ever seen, but it sure wants to be. The latest outing from acclaimed Russian director, Andrey Zvyagintsev (The Return, 2003, Leviathan, 2014), Loveless sets out not only to ruin your day, but to make you think about why it ruined your day. Is it a wheezy polemic about the dangers of technology? Could that portentous spectre have the power to drive us, much like our protagonists in the midst of a divorce, to neglect the pathetic children we barely even raised? Or is it a political allegory about the inverse-Midas touch bestowed on Russia by Putin? Does that liken the neglectful parents to the Russian Government, and the child to its citizens? Or is it merely an apocalyptic fantasy lived out in microcosm with the world’s most depressing family?

It is, of course, we all groan in anticipation of the cop-out answer, all of these. It’s a sad story about a couple of selfish people, Zhenya and Boris, and their pale child, Alexey who won’t stop crying. In one scene, Zhenya confesses to her new lover that Alexey has repulsed her since his birth.

When Alexey goes missing, these kooky parents are not delivered their desired respite from his constant crying. No, in fact, they realise that they didn’t actually want to wish him out of existence and are kinda bummed that the only evidence of their interpersonal association might have been mercifully pulverised by fate.

I’m portraying the characters as a lot more blasé to their son’s disappearance than they are, but the misery is so unrelentingly (even assiduously) heaped on that I felt a growing numbness even to the gallons of tears sprayed across a dilapidated morgue before the bloodied corpse of a child.

Gee, Andrey Zvyagintsev, I’m starting to think you hate your audiences. Or, at least, you want them to hate themselves. Every aside to a stilted moment of social media perusal or obsessively prized selfies turns the gaze of the film onto the audience. You do this! Shouts Zvyagintsev. You know you do this! Well, ya got me, you sad, evil Russian miserablist: I am the characters, the modern world is terrible, we’re all sinking into oblivion, the lucky ones go first, and life is a painful cycle of constant erasure.

Loveless is at turns cruel, darkly funny and nauseatingly tense. Zvyagintsev’s preoccupation with technology comes at the expense of the film’s fluency, and some narrative threads are hijacked by Alexey’s disappearance (Boris’s divorce-related employment woes under his strictly Catholic boss, for example). But for the most part, Loveless is an excellent, painful film with a strikingly cold visual style.

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