Michael Hayward's Blog

VIFF 2017: "Loveless"

Michael Hayward

Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev is one of the most consistently interesting directors working today. Zvyagintsev's films, which provide deeply unflattering glimpses into contemporary Russia, have garnered a string of awards and a host of flattering reviews (Leviathan, his 2014 film, has an amazing 99% rating at review aggregating site Rotten Tomatoes).

In Loveless, a failed marriage enters its final, brutal stages, with Boris and Zhenya, husband and wife, bitterly excoriating each other any time they are in the same room; evidently the pair have learned their social skills from Martha and George (the lovebirds in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?) Forgotten during these no-holds-barred verbal battles is the couple's 12-year old son, Alexey, who one night overhears his parents arguing over his custody. Each parent is involved in a new relationship; each wants to "move on" with their life; neither parent wants their son. Later we see Alexey alone is his room, sobbing.

When Alexey disappears it takes his warring parents two days to realize that he has gone, and by then there are few traces for the volunteer search teams to follow. The physical landscape they search is like an urban war zone: scrub forest squeezed between Soviet-era apartment blocks; abandoned and rotting buildings, the rooms filled with rubble, rainwater dripping from sagging ceilings.

The emotional landscape is just as devastated. As part of the search efforts Boris and Zhenya visit grandma's house, thinking that Alexey might have gone there to hide out; fat chance. "If you think I'm going to to take your spawn, forget it," grandma spits. "You've made your bed, now lie in it." Driving back, Zhenya expresses some regrets: "I should have listened to my mother; I should have dumped you and aborted. Instead I listened to you. How could all that love and happiness have turned to this? A heap of shit."

The brush strokes here are broad, the message less than subtle. Loveless is nonetheless a powerful film, which keeps you thinking long after you've left the theatre.

There is one more screening of Loveless during VIFF 2017: on Monday, October 9, 2017 at 9:15 PM. Check it out of you've been feeling overly joyful, and want to bring things down a notch or two.



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