LOVELESS [London Film Festival]

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Stuck in the loveless marriage of the title, a divorcing Russian couple must try to put aside their hatred of each other when their neglected son suddenly goes missing. As if just living with your ex isn't bad enough, Boris (Alexei Rozin) and Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) are forced to cooperate not just with the police and volunteers, but also with each other. 

It’s no surprise when the 12 year old boy fails to show up to school and even less of a surprise when it takes his parents a couple of days to notice he's actually gone. So determined are they both to find and keep their new lovers, that the child that neither of the pair ever really wanted is the least of their problems.

Loveless is a chilly, often chilling view of contemporary Russia. Everyone has their face stuck in their phones, snapping selfies or communicating through screens. The world is grey inside and out, reflecting miserable characters desperate to find love. Stone cold hearts are passed from generation to generation with Zhenya’s mother being a particularly frosty bag of bitterness and resentment. It’s no wonder that Zhenya is a distant, uncaring mother until the boy actually goes missing. 

All the while, director Andrey Zvyagintsev (Leviathan) never lets you forget that Loveless is about more than just one fractured family and their missing boy. Through intermittent radio and TV chatter, we hear of people’s concerns about the impending apocalypse (the film is set in 2012), and later the war in Ukraine. But even without the wider socio-political commentary, Loveless provides a scathing look at the kind of society where love is in short supply and disconnection is the order of the day.

Splitting its time between Boris and Zhenya, it’s an unflattering look at husbands and wives forced together by poor choices. While Maryana Spivak gives the most striking performance, the film seems to have slightly less sympathy for her character than it does for her husband. It is difficult to decipher why she is so bitter, so hostile and so insulting to her former partner Boris. There’s clearly something in their past not discussed in the film, but as it stands she comes across as the more unreasonable and self-absorbed character in comparison to her more reserved and placid husband.

They are a tough couple to truly sympathise with, and it’s a shame as viewers that we only get to see a couple of scenes of the effect that their animosity is having on their son before he vanishes. One scene of the boy overhearing a terrible conversation between his parents is particularly distressing and likely to linger in the minds of many viewers.

Loveless is not quite all doom and gloom though. In the volunteers that help in the search for the child, it finds some ordinary and capable heroes amongst the hatred and resentment. These volunteers are a stark contrast to the police and the parents who have no time for the boy until it is far too late. With its wintry Moscow locations and grim-faced protagonists, Loveless is deep, unsettling and just as bleak as its title suggests. 

LOVELESS / CERT: 15 / DIRECTOR: ANDREY ZVYAGINTSEV / SCREENPLAY: OLEG NEGIN / STARRING: ALEXEI ROZIN, MARYANA SPIVAK, MATVEY NOVIKOV / RELEASE DATE: 10TH NOVEMBER 



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