Loveless won Oscar, BAFTA and Golden Globe nominations for Best Foreign Language Film of 2017 and it won the Cannes Jury Prize and the Best Film of the London Film Festival last October. It is directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev, who bravely specialises in exposing the underbelly of Russian society. His last film Leviathan also won the London Film Festival and is a blistering account of how political greed and corruption affects ordinary people in Russia and the questionable role of the Russian Orthodox Church.
In Loveless, Zhenya and Boris are going through a vicious divorce marked by resentment, frustration and recriminations. Already embarking on new lives, each with a new partner, they are impatient to start again, to turn the page – even if it means threatening to abandon their 12-year-old son Alyosha. Until, after witnessing one of their fights, Alyosha disappears. It is a film about the Russian middle classes and their materialism and heartlessness. It is about lovelessness in a family but, more than that, lovelessness in society. The whole story can be seen as a metaphor for Putin’s Russia and the way the country has lost its humanity. There is a small note of hope in the form of a volunteer network that takes up the search for the boy.
Zvyagintsev leads the parents (and us) toward a greater sorrow, one that’s shared rather than nursed in private, and he remains committed to the mystery at the heart of things. Will anything at last crack Boris and Zhenya’s composure and leave them staring into the mirror of their own monstrousness? Loveless can only hope. In the cosmology of its maker, despair is the only sign we’re still alive.
The film is a hard, unhappy watch, but it’s a riveting, unforgettable one. It’s a film in which the only person you care about is almost entirely absent from the screen, but watching his parents transform from selfish ghouls to, if not better people then at least people who recognise their failings, is profoundly moving. It’s a cold movie, set under a permanently grey sky and with long, chilled silences, but still full of, often unspoken, feeling. It punches you with huge emotional moments – none more so than Alyosha hysterically weeping as he hears his parents effectively say he is unwanted – and then lets them reverberate long after.
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Venue: William Loveless Hall