You can’t live your life in lovelessness,” the ex-wife tells her new boyfriend. We agree. That’s certainly true. But we also know there is a touch more excuse in her rationale than reason. Like the Joneses down the street, she has left one marriage for another. Why? Maybe it’s love, maybe it’s sex, or maybe it’s just something new. Lovelessness, we question as we watch the children carry out cardboard boxes of stuffed animals or selfishness?
For filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev, the answer lies in the latter. Set in 2012, Loveless revolves around the divorce of Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin), a middle-class couple of 13 years who couldn’t hate each other more. Stuck in the middle is Alyosha (Matvey Novikov), their only child and the reason neither left a long time ago. That won’t stop them now. They even discuss sending Alyosha to an orphanage rather than compromise on custody. A happy marriage this is not.
Yet, nothing seems out of the ordinary. Boris is coached by a co-worker on how to quickly divorce and start a new family so he won’t be terminated by his fundamentalist Christian employer. Equally excited to start her second relationship, Zhenya spends so much time at her boyfriend’s house that when she finds out Alyosha is missing, she realizes he’s been missing for two days. And where is Boris? At his pregnant girlfriend’s apartment—she’s in her third trimester and already grinding his gears.
Yes, Zhenya and Boris are aggravating protagonists, repulsive even, but Zvyagintsev isn’t interested in simply throwing them under the bus. His aim is much more systemic. In one of the movie’s most telling scenes, a woman exits a restaurant bathroom and is told how beautiful she is by a stranger. She smiles, and the man asks for her number. She gives it along with her name before walking back to her table and date. Apparently, infidelity is Russia’s worst-kept secret.
Who, then, are the loveless? Alyosha, the son Zhenya and Boris never wanted and don’t know what to do with? Yes, he certainly is loveless, forgotten, and unwanted, but so too are the other children—constantly off-screen and seemingly forgotten by a generation of adults so self-absorbed they can’t be bothered to watch out for them, let alone raise them.
Loveless / Нелюбовь (2017)
Directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev
Written by Oleg Negin, Andrey Zvyagintsev
Produced by Gleb Fetisov, Sergey Melkumov
Starring: Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Matvey Novikov, Marina Vasileva
Sony Pictures Classics, Rated R, Running time 127 minutes, Premiered May 18, 2017 at the Cannes Film Festival.
The above review first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 25, No. 30, “Confronting a selfish world with Loveless.”
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