Monday, 2 October 2017

Loveless (2017 EIFF 4)


Two years ago, Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev made one of the bleakest, most profound and most thought-provoking films of the decade: Leviathan. He’s back this year with yet another very bleak, profound and thought-provoking film: Loveless. The title says it all. This is my favourite film of the Edmonton International Film Festival so far (halfway through my twenty films). 

In a city in northern Russia, 12-year-old Alyosha (Matvey Novikov) overhears his divorcing parents argue about who should take him because neither wants to do so. Indeed, they imply that Alyosha ruined their lives by forcing them into a loveless marriage. Heartbroken, Alyosha runs away. The rest of the film follows Alyosha’s parents (Zhenya, played by Maryana Spivak, and Boris, played by Aleksey Rozin) as they hunt for Alyosha with ever-growing fears and in the midst of their new relationships and their generally stressful lives. There is no real attempt to work together on this, just blame for everybody and everything. 

The police aren’t much help, but a volunteer organization aids in the search. It is led by the ‘coordinator’ (Aleksey Fateev), one of the most intelligent and competent characters I’ve seen in a while, whose first request is that Zhenya visit her mother near Kiev, a visit that shows us where Zhenya got her attitude towards her own child. 

As in Leviathan, Loveless is a story told on two levels: the family drama and the state of Russia today. The latter is made obvious in the choice of news excerpts (all bad, of course) the characters watch on their televisions, in the way everyone is staring constantly at their smartphones and in the obsession with materialism in the midst of a society still ruled by strong traditions.

Loveless is a cold, haunting, well-structured film, full of gorgeous cinematography and brilliant acting. Its only flaw is the general lack of empathy that makes Loveless a less engaging film (for me) than the superior Leviathan. Nevertheless, Loveless gets a solid **** and will be in my top ten of the year. 

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