The breakdown of a marriage is the stuff of many a taught, uncomfortable drama, and Loveless – the latest film from Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev – offers a superbly icy portrait of a disintegrating relationship and the intolerable strain that places on the couple’s only child.
Zvyagintsev’s previous film, 2014’s Leviathan, was an emotional story of corruption and greed in the local politics of a remote town. Much to the chagrin of Russia’s actual government, Zvyagintsev’s film took aim at the frequent hypocrisy and moral inadequacy of Russia’s elected officials, especially as regards their close relationship with the Orthodox Church. In Loveless, we see similar issues arise in the story of a couple whose individual selfishness means the safety and well-being of their young son is very much put in jeopardy.
Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin) married young and had a child together: young Alyosha (Matvey Novikov). Whatever affection they once had for another is well and truly gone, and Alyosha, on the cusp of adolescence, only proves to be a further complication for them as they try to finalise their separation. Zhenya plans to send him to a boarding school so that she can make up for lost time, enjoying a second youth in the company of her new flame – an older man of considerable means.
Boris too has plans for the future which hardly accommodate his son: his new girlfriend is pregnant and his greatest worry lies in keeping the truth of his divorce from his fanatically religious employer. With his parents’ rancorous arguments proving too much, Alyosha decides to run away from home, forcing Boris and Zhenya to briefly put aside their differences as they try to track him down. Channelling Ingmar Bergman and using the desolate landscape of Moscow’s snow-covered outskirts as its backdrop, the film generates a cold, uncomfortable atmosphere aided by strong performances from its two leading stars.
There’s very little warmth on display, not so much Marriage Italian Style as Divorce Russian Style: a bleak tale of self-interest and recrimination which offers an occasional commentary on the ongoing political crisis in the bordering Ukraine. Loveless does not rise to the same dramatic intensity as Leviathan – its story and moral message is almost a little too simplistic – but it is still an excellently crafted film, a powerfully assembled portrait of a very unhappy family.