Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: Loveless

Magazine article The Spectator

Cinema: Loveless

Article excerpt

Andrey Zvyagintsev's Loveless is, indeed, devastatingly loveless, as well as devastatingly pitiless, which does not sound hopeful. Yet it is also devastatingly haunting, absorbing and transfixing. It's a domestic drama about a missing boy that's been widely taken as a state-of-the-nation drama about Russia today -- a From Russia With No Love Whatsoever, if you like. But it may well be about the state of us all, which is the most devastating of all the devastatings. Generally, it's just so much nicer to point the finger at others than at ourselves. (I have always found it to be much less devastating this way.)

Set in the environs of Moscow, the film opens with a shot of a school and the children pouring out at the end of the day. One child, 12-year-old Alyosha (Matvey Novikov), peels off and walks through a winter forest where the trees are all icy branches and the river is glacially still -- everything in this film is profoundly cold -- and the camera lingers to study the base of one particular trunk and its roots. (I can spot the symbolism; I just can't be expected to tell you what it means.)

Alyosha makes it home, if you can call it a home. He is the son of Boris (Aleksey Rozin) and Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) who are in the midst of a bitter divorce. They row viciously about who will keep the boy, as neither likes him -- she will later confess she wishes she'd had an abortion -- and neither wants him. Can they palm him off on her mother? he asks. Can they, she argues, send him to boarding school until the army takes him? We then see Alyosha hiding behind the bathroom door. He has overheard, and is convulsed with sobs. Such heartless bastards, but you do want to stick with Zhenya and Boris. Or, if not that exactly, you do want to find out what Zvyagintsev plans to do with them. (Mow then down, Andrey! Mow them down!)

During the first hour we look at the parents' lives. They are already involved with other people. Boris has a young girlfriend who is pregnant. Zhenya is dating a rich older man who has a fancy apartment and takes her to fancy restaurants and drinks from a balloon wine glass, which is always fancy. We understand that Boris is weak. He is a salesman, his boss is conservative, and he's terrified he'll get the sack if his divorce is revealed. …

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