Loveless review: Andrey Zvyagintsev directs this praised Russian drama, a firm Cannes favourite from 2017 and Oscar nominee in the best foreign language film category at this year’s awards.

Loveless review by Andrew Gaudion.

Loveless review
Loveless review

Director Andrey Zvyagintsev saw Academy recognition with his 2014 dry tragedy Leviathanand the 53 year-old Russian director has once again had his work recognised by the Academy with his new film Loveless begin selected as one of the nominees for this year’s Best Foreign Language Picture. While Leviathan didn’t receive Government approval, his latest has, even though it is a much more direct and damning view of modern day Russia. It is bleak, often very distressing but a vital piece of Russian cinema that proves to be very hard to shake off.

The film follows Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin), a couple in the midst of divorce and separate affairs. The couple have come to utterly despise each other, barely able to stay in the same room as one another without getting into a fiery verbal confrontation. Their 12 year-old son Alexey (Matvey Novikov) is very much caught in the middle and, after over hearing one of his parents very vocal arguments, runs away from home. With their son missing, Zhenya and Boris do what they can to launch a search for their son in the midst of their collapsing marriage.

Loveless review
Loveless review

Zvyagintsev manages to weave a very engaging mystery at the heart of this film, making it a consistently involving look into one dismally grey family in contemporary Russia. Set largely in 2012, Zvyagintsev paints a grim image of modern Russia, one where the state police seem very disinterested in assisting their citizens in a case as desperate as that of a missing child. Much of the investigative work that is undertaken in the film is done by a team of volunteers who look to pick up the slack that the police leave behind. He also portrays a Russia that pits tradition against modern lifestyle and individual desire, what with Boris concerned about losing his job, and therefore his financial security, due to the fact that his company only employs those who are married and have a family. It depicts a society that has almost encouraged the likes of Boris and Zhenya to develop a relationship that is built on nothing more than a necessity to fit in and succeed, with a child being the ultimate victim of this loveless marriage, left to bear the weight of their bitterness and apathy.

Related: Leviathan review

Zvyagintsev has weaved a film that is astoundingly dense in its depiction of a family that has grown apart against the backdrop in a country seemingly filled with individuals who seem so desperately unhappy with those that govern them and the lives they lead. There is a constant sense of dread built from the very opening, thanks to a slow moving tracking camera which crafts a very ominous atmosphere throughout. Zvyagintsev is capable of creating incredibly striking imagery within the cold locales of Moscow, taking in the dreary apartment blocks that house the dissatisfied family, as well as the barren forests and abandoned buildings on the out skirts of the city where the lost child may be hiding with an eerie and unsettling gaze. Be it the bright orange jackets of a search team emerging between the trunks of dead trees, or Boris and Zhenya making love to their new partners in rooms constantly shrouded in shadow, Zvyagintsev is capable of crafting images which are striking, haunting and soaked in sorrow and regret.

Loveless review
Loveless review

Loveless is a bleak experience, one which has a haunting energy to it that makes it hard to shake off. While it may be bleak, it is to Zvyagintsev credit that it never feels like a chore, something which many downbeat films often struggle with. The film never forces its themes to the fore, instead it allows them to naturally present themselves as the central mystery plays out. The stakes feel real, the tension always palpable as more leads present themselves despite the fact that hope is a concept which always feels like it is miles away from this landscape. This is enforced through the very strong performances across the whole cast, but particularly those of Spivak and Rozin who develop a relationship that simply reeks of hatred and spite.

Loveless will not be the most enjoyable time you have at the cinema this year, but it will be one that you will find hard to forget due to the striking imagery, raw performances and the involving mystery that is at its core. This bleak depiction of modern day Russia is successful on numerous fronts, from being both a searing comment on the deep dissatisfaction that resides in the Russian public and as a thriller the likes of Fincher would be proud of. A worthy contender at this year’s Oscars.

Loveless review by Andrew Gaudion, February 2018.

Loveless is released in UK cinemas on Friday 9th February 2018.

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Loveless