By Mark Saldana
Rating: 3.5 (Out of 4 Stars)
Russia’s entry for the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar is a mostly well-directed and well-written film, but definitely not a feel good one. Directed by Andrey Zvyaginstev who co-wrote the film with Oleg Negin, Loveless tells a tragic tale of how the absence of love and how emptiness in people’s lives can take a major toll on the innocent. Zvyaginstev and Negin offer some sobering commentary on what people take for granted in their lives and how self-indulgence and self-involvement has permeated the people of the world. Though some of the movie’s messages are a tad on the nose, Zvyaginstev still offers some valid statements and presents them in some disturbing and emotional ways.
Alexey (Matvey Novikov) is a sensitive and shy young boy in Moscow whose parents are in a painfully loveless marriage. On the verge of finalizing their divorce, Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin) continue to bitterly argue about their plans for their home and their son. On one particular night, tempers escalate once again and sharp, painful barbs are exchanged; however, this time, Alexey overhears every word spoken, especially the ones directed at him. In a couple of days, Alexey’s parents realize that the child has disappeared and the two struggle to put their differences aside to find their son.
I must say that Andrey Zvyagintsev does an outstanding job of presenting this haunting and realistic portrait of a family in crisis. With gorgeous cinematography by Mikhail Krichman not only captures the bleak coldness of winter in Moscow, but juxtaposes it with bitter coldness of people with little to no love in the hearts. It does make me wonder if Zvyaginstev and Oleg Negin have an intense dislike for the Russian life experience and how it has affected people of multiple generations because at times it seems like that is one of the more subtle messages of the film. It is no mystery, though, that Zvyaginstev and Negin feel rather strongly that people have become so self-centered in their lives that they often take the more important things for granted, including the lives of children. The Alexey character certainly represents a casualty of the absence of love and the narcissism of his parents.
I must say that I was rather impressed with young Matvey Novikov who gives an emotionally powerful performance as Alexey. I also must applaud the acting of both Maryana Spivak and Aleksey Rozin who both give phenomenal turns as Alexey’s parents. The movie also stars Marina Vasileva, Andris Keyshs, and Alexey Fateev, all of whom perform well in their roles.
Though this film, in my opinion, falls somewhat short of deserving the Best Foreign Language Film Oscar, I still found myself impressed and moved by what Andrey Zvyaginstev has to offer in this movie. This is my first Zvyaginstev film, as I missed his previous one, the critically acclaimed Leviathan. I do wish to watch it now and hope that I get to see more work from this remarkable filmmaker.