An icy and ambivalent domestic tragedy, set amongst the selfish and self-important Russian middle class. This is a film that fairly luxuriates in bad parenting, although it is also making a rather unsubtle point about materialism and selfishness in modern Russia, as we’ve come to expect from the director of Leviathan, Elena, The Banishment and The Return.
Zhenya (Spivak) and Boris (Rozin) are visiting a spiteful divorce on each other, blithely ignoring the fate of their son, 12-year old Alyosha (Novikov). In fact, he has become, for them, an object of resentment, a scapegoat, the living evidence of their own failed dreams and compromised lives.
When they’re not spitting vitriol at each other, Zhenya and Boris are busy with new lovers who approximate more closely to those dreams of material comfort and youth. They don’t even notice when Alyosha goes missing and it’s up to a quasi-militaristic volunteer missing children unit to find out what has happened to the neglected child.
Zvyagintsev takes a teasing approach to the story, one that reflects the attitudes of the main adult characters. This is a grimy domestic tale that’s filmed widescreen in glowering, portentous dark blues and greys, a film look that seems heavy with the hideous self-importance of the parents.
This makes even the striking imagery, such as a wintry search scene with snow and hi-vis jackets, an ambivalent experience, like a run-in between Dekalog-era Kieslowski and a Gursky landscape.
There’s one shot that will stay with you awhile, testament to the lost heart of the film: a door slammed during a marital argument reveals Alyosha hiding behind it, his face contorted with silent grief. The next morning he is gone.
Loveless is out at cinemas on 9 February.