Zhenya (a magic Spivak) and Boris (a quiet Rozin) are going through a bitter divorce but the two have to band together when their neglected twelve-year-old son Alyosha (Novikov) goes missing after witnessing another blazing row. With the police stretched for resources it’s left to a volunteer force to scour the surrounding abandoned buildings and forests, while the parents show no desire to holster weapons in their bitter battle…
The pounding piano over the opening credits set the tone for the latest from Andrey Zvyagintsev, Russia’s entry for this year’s Best Foreign Language Film. This one isn’t going to be an easy watch, but then the director of Elena, The Return, The Banishment and Leviathan has never made a film that could be described as comfortable viewing. And just in case you didn’t get the message with the unforgiving soundtrack the first images we see are of bone-deep cold landscapes.
Adults here veer from selfish to useless to narcissistic. The hatred between the leads is palpable, the exchanges so nasty that the viewer might almost wish they could swap places with Alyosha – at least he can hide behind doors and retreat to his room; there’s no such reprieve for the audience. In a typically unsentimental move Zvyagintsev and his long-time collaborator Oleg Nevin don’t hint that the missing child could be the catalyst to reunite the parents. They’ve already moved on with different partners and they continue to niggle each other, trading barbs and cruel truths throughout. There’s too much pain there to even contemplate a semblance of harmony despite their common goal. The film’s title is no accident.
Casting the net wider achieves little. A group of women in a restaurant toast to “love and selfies!” The detective who comes to interview Zhenya all but says that she should give up hope, that the chances of him returning are close to nil. Zhenya’s estranged and paranoid mother (an eye-catching turn from Natalya Potapova), whom she visits in the off chance her son has run away to her secluded country home, reckons it’s all a ruse to melt her heart. Zhenya, who also seems more interested in her iPhone, also admonishes Alyosha for “crying too much.”
Boris’ pregnant partner Masha (Marina Vasileva) wants him to spend more time with her despite him running across Moscow in search for his missing son, and there’s pressure at work to keep the divorce on the QT lest it anger his conservative boss. Boris and Zhenya enjoy sex with their new partners as their boy stays at home alone, staring out his rain-splattered window. Everyone seems too wrapped up in their own little world to care.
True to form Loveless is painstakingly detailed – it’s fifty minutes before boy goes missing - but it’s not without a grain of optimism for humanity: the dedication of the volunteer force, headed up by the professional but kind Ivan (Aleksey Fateev), keeps hopes alive that Boris’ colleague’s prediction that the world is going to end may not come to fruition.