Ieuan Jones reviews Loveless, showing in the Plymouth Arts Centre cinema from 31 March – 4 April. Tickets are available to book now, with just three screenings available we recommend booking early.
Andrey Zvyagintsev has a growing reputation not just as a director but as modern Russia’s conscience. Just as Vladimir Putin has now secured a fourth term in a landslide victory, Zvyagintsev appears like Banquo’s ghost to remind us of the poisons currently afflicting his home country.
His last film, Leviathan (2014) won armfuls of accolades and awards the world over. Yet at home it was harshly criticised by the government (who part-funded the film) and sought to subject it to a new law that could see it banned for “defiling the national culture.” It certainly was an eye opener, full as it was of vodka swilling apparatchiks crushing the spirits and (literally) the homes of anyone standing in their way. At its centre was a monolith, a huge whale carcass (the leviathan of the title) that stood as a symbol of Russia’s massive and insurmountable obstacles.
That image could be argued to be pretty on the nose – it’s certainly difficult to miss. Loveless pretty much suffers from the same problem (insofar as it is a problem) – it’s fair I think to say that Zvyagintsev is not really a dealer in great subtlety. He may believe the issues he is communicating are too urgent to waste time with anything less than the starkest of images. Loveless does at one point feature a main character stuck on a treadmill, wearing a Lycra top with “Russia” actually emblazoned on the front of it. Hm.
But for all that the film does not lose any of its emotional punch. We start out by seeing the awful marriage of Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin) on its very last legs. When at home they argue furiously in front of their child, Alexey (Matvey Novikov) and away from home they both have their bit on the side. The only reason they are keeping the sham together at all is, at least in part, due to a bizarre and ultra-conservative rule at their work where they must be proven to have a family. Then, one day, Alexey does not come home. When it becomes clear that this is not a simple case of playing truant, they alert the authorities, who do not seem at all bothered (runaways are at epidemic levels in Russia, apparently). The matter becomes desperate and Zhenya and Boris must find some way of collaborating, despite their animosity. They dig right through the ruins, including old buildings, family homes and Russia’s crumbling institutions, in their increasingly frantic search.
Loveless is, like a form of surgery, painful but necessary. As matters escalate in that part of world we have, in Zvyagintsev, a real insider feeding us knowledge about what life is like there, from his point of view. We should all be keeping an eye on what he’s up to.