|Image courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.|
For those unfamiliar with his work, Zvyagintsev is one of Russia's most acclaimed filmmakers. His most recent - and better - film was "Leviathan," a rather damning portrait of his home country. The first film I recall seeing by the director was "The Return," another haunting tale of familial strife.
"Loveless" follows the story of a couple going through a divorce who clearly hate each other. During the film's early scenes, Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin) spit continuous avowals of hatred at one another and frequently use their young, lonely son (Matvey Novikok) as a weapon. Both threaten to disavow their own child if it would somehow make life more miserable for the other parent.
During an early scene in the movie, the friendless boy is seen crying behind a door as he listens to his parents lambast each other in the most hateful manner. Shortly thereafter, he disappears without a trace. Meanwhile, Boris is carrying on with a young woman whom he has impregnated, while Zhenya is having a liaison with an older man. At first, neither appears too concerned that their boy has vanished.
It is at this point that - at least in terms of cinematic style - "Loveless" begins to adopt a tone similar to such crime dramas as "Zodiac" and "Prisoners." Zvyagintsev gets a lot of mileage out of creepy barren warehouses, foggy fields and dark wooded areas where search parties roam around looking for the missing boy. Boris and Zhenya both begin to crumble, but it's unclear whether this is out of genuine affection and grief for their missing son, their bleak existences or a sense of guilt regarding their terrible parenting. A visit to Zhenya's despicable mother makes it clear that at least one apple hasn't fallen far from the tree.
"Loveless" is a good movie with strong performances and some gorgeously haunting cinematography. It's not as clear in its thematic intentions - for example, the film is set in 2012 against the backdrop of the U.S. election, which remains unseen, and strife in Ukraine, but seemingly for no purpose - as the powerful "Leviathan," and the leading characters are difficult company with whom to spend two-plus hours. Regardless, the film occasionally casts a moody spell and provides ample proof that Zvyagintsev is one of the most distinctive voices in current Russian cinema.