Here we conclude our two-part examination of the acclaimed Loveless, Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev’s latest work.
The backdrop of Loveless is an ice-world of wintry concrete with tree-limbs frozen to gnarled black wire against a snow-laden sky. Not a single shot paints a relief of cheerful sunlight, as Mikhail Krichman’s camera moves with a surgeon’s deliberation through Loveless’ colour-drained spaces. The cortege-pace is appropriate enough for the societal dissection depicted throughout Loveless’ 2 hour, 8 minute running time, although casual viewers will likely be dissuaded from embarking upon such a dogged trek. Scenes are framed square-on and block-like, mirroring the unyielding language of Moscow’s residential city-scape as it easily swallows the search party’s tiny cries after the missing boy. The year is 2012, the apocalypse is in the air, -and also on the news as Eastern Ukraine burns. The scene is set.
Within abandoned blocks the lens dwells upon rooms discarded to entropy, the way of all things, whilst the team dissolves and disperses into widening fields of gathering snow and mazes of streets shrouded under night. Monochrome posters of the missing child, once keenly-placed and prominent, now grey-fade with time and fray under the elements, gradually normalising into the ignored landscape of a city moving on with its daily existence. Today’s crisis becomes, ultimately, tomorrow’s old news and we realise that Zvyagintsev’s film is not really about a missing boy at all.
We gain little insight into the character of Boris; a stone-wall salary-man who seemingly exists in a perpetual ‘now’; ambitionless outside of his immediate gratifications and with life on cyclic cruise-control. In a society of relative financial uncertainty, his dependable mundanity perhaps encapsulates his appeal to the vulnerable Masha who seems to take little issue with her joint-guilt in the marriage-wreck at hand. Instead she chooses clothes for her forthcoming baby and sulkily demands attention whilst the other child: Aleksy, is already born and lost somewhere out in the Russian winter. There seems to be little willing evil in her motivation however, more a childlike naivety and compulsion, incapable of grasping the magnitude of the reality that she finds herself party to. Tears are her only response to dawning shadows of realisation.
Zhenya is undoubtedly portrayed with the most depth, initially as the woman wronged by her husband, but then as a character with questionable and unsympathetic traits of her own. Whilst physically providing as a mother -out of duty, her emotional investment is essentially nil. In this she parallels Boris. With guilt and obligation; both join the search party after the fact, but were seemingly absent for the 12 years prior. They constantly refer to Aleksy in negative terms and seemingly know him little better than a stranger, whilst the nonplussed authorities take note and look on.
And it’s here, incidentally, that we finally find a character we might -at last- wish to spend time with; the pragmatic and capable coordinator. A stoic, oasis of stability in a sea of insanity, untainted by the storm of excrement flying all around him. Always a resolute response, always ready with the next step in his plan of action as he corrals a swathe of hi-vis volunteers across derelict parkland.
Another diversion, this time momentary, sticks in the mind with the impact of it’s significance. Our POV tracks through a restaurant to rest momentarily on a glamorous, beaming female whilst a disembodied voice requests her phone number. She dispenses it like candy, -and then promptly sits back down with her dinner date, affectionately caressing his head with a smile as she goes. Elsewhere a group of similarly presented women preen and pout for selfies that must -surely- net them their future husbands. There’s something about the society on display that we simply wish to wash off.
Whilst a mother in non-emotional terms, a smile is only brought to Zhenya’s lips by a narcissistic addiction to social media or the prospect of time spent with her new lover, drunk on the novelty of her feelings toward him. This, an intoxicating and revelatory experience after existing since early childhood with a null in her heart. Instead of misery and despair, her sterile, loveless upbringing has made her strong, angry and tough: a survivor. Like her mother before her; she should not have raised a child, -only to pass on and perpetuate the lingering damage. The abused has become the abuser, consciously or otherwise. In one scene, we linger on Zhenya exercising, stoney faced and sporting the word “Russia” across her gym top. She’s Mother Russia, labelled in English in case foreign audiences missed the point. When allegory is uncertain, -a sledge hammer will do.
Both the loveless protagonists claim to love again, each with their new companions, but by the end of the film, as Zhenya’s silent, stern face stares-down the camera and Boris dumps his new child unceremoniously in its his play-pen prison; we don’t believe them. The cycle continues.
“Loveless has that independent/foreign film characteristic of observing people in their day to day lives at a slow pace. So if you are instead looking for intelligent representation of real life and real, multi-dimensional humans then this is the film for you” –nomoreworkhorse
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