From his multiple-award winning debut The Return to the epic Oscar-nominated triumph Leviathan, Andrey Zvyagintsev has been hailed as the new master of Russian cinema, with comparisons to Tarkovsky thrown around in seemingly every other review. These claims certainly aren’t undeserved, as Zvyagintsev has steadily become the most perceptive chronicler of the bleakness and isolation of modern Russian society since Tarkovsky was unleashing masterful sci-fi allegories all those years ago. Zvyagintsev’s work takes place firmly in the here and now, however, and his latest, Loveless, which won the Jury Prize at Cannes earlier this year, doubles down on the fraught relationships and harsh oppression that course through his earlier films.
Zhenya and Boris are going through a bitter divorce, constantly engaged in nasty arguments while their young son, Alyosha, is caught in the middle. Both parents are oblivious to the toll that this is clearly taking on him, instead pre-occupied with new romantic partners and new lives. When Alyosha goes missing one day, the troubled parents must reluctantly work together to try and figure out what happened.
As the title suggests, Zvyagintsev exposes each character’s desperation to feel loved in increasingly constrictive situations. Zhenya and Boris are both so focused on starting anew that they don’t even notice Alyosha’s disappearance for a good couple of days. And when they finally do, it’s almost comedic at first how they have to force themselves back into a search for a son that they were barely paying attention to in the first place. As the search for Alyosha stretches on and all the leads seem to hit dead ends, the parents must consider the possibility that they might never find him, which leads to an even more disturbing question – Does it even matter?
Zvyagintsev spirals the scope out to examine the fear of lovelessness found in the supporting characters as well. From Zhenya’s new boyfriend’s absent daughter, who is away studying abroad and has no desire to return home, to Boris’s new girlfriend, who is already pregnant with his child and worries that he might end up betraying her too, everybody is paralyzed by the possibility of ending up alone.
Meanwhile, Zvyagintsev doesn’t skimp on the thriller elements, portraying the missing persons search in exhaustive detail. But this is an existential drama at the core, and each character’s torment is documented in the hypnotically beautiful way that fans of this great Russian director are by now accustomed to.
Is Loveless essential festival viewing?
Absolutely. Zvyagintsev is at his peak right now and this is right up there with Leviathan. You’ll be chewing on this film for weeks after.