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Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev (Leviathan), Loveless is an achingly authentic drama about a Russian family whose young child goes missing.
Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris’ (Aleksey Rozin) marriage is in complete shambles. The two can’t stand each other, no longer live together and both of them are seeing other people. Their young son Alexey (Matvey Novikov) is clearly distraught – after all, he suffers the bitter abuse of his mother and the absence of his father – and one day, he disappears without a trace.
If Loveless was a Hollywood movie, it probably would have been the story of two parents whose love for one another is rekindled in the wake of the child’s disappearance. A story of how something that shocking and tragic brings them closer together and forces them to re-examine their relationship. Loveless is not that kind of movie.
Zhenya and Boris’ marriage is beyond repair: of that, there is no doubt. There is never even a hint of possible reconciliation, of a renewed connection – whatever those two once had, it’s now long gone and the movie goes as far as to say it might not have even existed in the first place.
I’ve never lived or even visited Russia in my life, but as someone who hails from an Eastern European country, Loveless‘ snapshot of contemporary Russian society rings true and hits hard.
An apathetic police officer calmly explains to the distraught parents that Alexey is probably off having fun with friends and should return on his own, promising to escalate things to a full investigation if nothing happens in the next few days.
It’s not the police that starts interviewing neighbors and friends, posting flyers or organizing search parties – it’s a network of volunteers who know just how inadequate the police response is to these kinds of cases.
In an earlier scene, before it’s discovered that Alexey is missing, Boris and a co-worker discuss how Boris’ upcoming divorce could cost him his job – their boss is a rigid traditionalist who demands all his workers are married. The co-worker points out that Boris could hire an actor to play his wife, something which others have done in the past.
Much later, Boris and Zhenya head off to meet Zhenya’s mother, on the off-chance that their son went there. Zhenya’s mother is cruel and vindictive, berating her daughter for not listening to her advice all these years. The rift between mother and daughter is just as severe as between husband and wife, if not deeper.
It’s moments like these and many others like them, both big and small that make Loveless seem so unnervingly real. It captures attitudes, personalities and family dynamics that I’ve seen in places like my home country of Bulgaria – and even if you don’t have broad cultural familiarity like me, there’s a level of detail and specificity at work in Loveless that’s incredibly difficult to fake. While the movie also works with stereotypes, they are not only complex and nuanced, they are a noticeable departure from the overused Western archetypes of the Russian mobster and such. It offers a different and more layered perspective on Russia.
This is an incredibly difficult movie to watch. It’s emotionally devastating in a way that slowly creeps into the back of your mind and lingers. It’s a bleak, bleak movie – one that feels important, relevant and insightful, but definitely not enjoyable.
If you feel like you’re up for it, it’s definitely worth seeing at least once. A quiet, yet hard-hitting drama that is chillingly authentic.