There is a shot ten minutes into Loveless that is so startling, so haunting that its impact resonates throughout the rest of the film. An unhappily married couple are having a fierce argument about who is to be burdened with their son when they separate. A door is closed during their fight that reveals a twelve year old boy, silently weeping for what he has heard. It is a shot that is singularly brilliant and utterly devastating.
The couple at the centre of the film are Boris and Zhenya. They have drifted apart from each other; he is now with a younger woman who is pregnant with his child, and she has found an older, cooler lover. They take little interest in their son, Alyosha, until one day he is gone. His disappearance shapes the film as it tracks into the wilderness and woodland that surrounds the urbanised area the couple live in, in the pursuit of this missing child.
Hauntingly shot by Mikhail Krichman, there is so much to unpack in Loveless. The broken connections between each generation move towards toxic familial relationships that add a tense, prickly atmosphere. The treatment of phones in this film is terrifying; their presence is felt throughout to the degree that the film at times resembles a particularly bleak episode of Black Mirror. One can interpret critiques of the current political situation in
Aleksey Rozin and Maryana Spivak make a fascinatingly dislikeable couple, giving committed performances that do not seek out our sympathies and are all the better for this. For the time Matvey Novikov (as Alyosha) is on screen, he makes an impact that lingers and aids the narrative of the film. The rest of the cast are great, giving the film a lived-in quality that heightens the film's power.
Pre-disappearance there are amusing jokes and a nice vein of subtle satire. But once Alyosha is ripped out of the film, the bleakness and cynicism of Loveless becomes inescapable. So much so that, at over two hours long, the film proves an exhausting endurance. The beauty of the technical side of the film, with some visually stunning shots of the woodlands, is lost as the narrative bores into our soul, as Loveless gets darker, colder, bleaker. There is no singular moment as powerful as the shot from the couple's first argument, but the film is devastating. This is a harrowing experience, cinema at its most powerful, and it is easy to see why this has been nominated in the Best Foreign Film category at the Oscars.