Russian filmmaker Andrey Zvyagintsev brings a typically intense film to Cannes with mysterious thriller Loveless
Andrey Zvyagintsev's stark and at times brutal Loveless chills to the core from its opening frame, telling the story of a home devoid (as the title suggests) of love. Within this intense family drama the Russian director then wraps a procedural thriller concerned with the disappearance of a young boy.
In the opening moments, the camera tracks along a snowy river bank, showing bare trees whose fronds reach out like frozen capillaries from the withered hearts of their trunks. It sets the scene for the film's icy temperament, which cuts to the quick with scalpel-like precision. At the centre of the story is a young boy called Alyosha (Matvey Novikov). When we first meet him, he has a smile on his face, but don’t let it deceive you – it’s the last sincere moment of joy you'll see for the duration of Loveless.
At home, Alyosha's parents, Zhenya (Mariana Spivak) and Boris (Alexey Rozin), are going through a toxic divorce, unable to be in each other’s presence without snide remarks or cold comments, some of which concern young Alyosha. In one scene they casually throw around barbs about which parent should take on the little ‘squirt’ or whether he'd be better off at boarding school. As Zhenya storms out of the room she slams the door, revealing her son has been hiding behind it during their heated exchange, and we see his face strewn with tears.
The realisation that his mother would rather down wine and scroll on her iPhone, and his father would rather be with his pregnant mistress or at work than spend time with him is the catalyst for Alyosha to flee. When the parents discover he’s missing (an entire day later) the hunt to find him begins.
Zvyagintsev’s trick of using a procedural drama as the narrative thrust while painting a precise portrait of both the parents and their respective new partners is masterfully handled. The bourgeois world in which they live could easily have led to tired clichés – the neglected wife, the over-worked husband – but not in Zvyagintsev’s hands. He, along with Oleg Negin, his long-standing writing collaborator, offers up a world populated by narcissists; the parents' world is purely self-serving, absent of concern for their only offspring.
While rooted in a family drama, the subjects that Zvyagintsev navigates allows him to obliquely critique Russian society. Background noise includes TV and radio reports of the conflict with Ukraine, while the characters continue their bourgeois existence of fine dining and treadmills during the search for their son. It's all captured expertly by cinematographer Mikhail Krichman, who peppers the film with lingering shots of the snowy landscape in which they live.
Loveless is a film of remarkable savagery, an astounding depiction of suffering, cruelty and indifference that lingers with the soul, and is an outstanding followup to the Oscar-nominated Leviathan.