Chris Knipp Writing: Movies, Politics, Art


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PostPosted: Tue Feb 13, 2018 9:30 pm 
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MARYANA SPIVAK AND MATVEY NOVIKOV IN LOVELESS

A missing child, a shattered society

If we look over the experiences Zvyagintsev has offered us in his films - well, maybe we'd rather not. But the harsh world he has introduced us to has been impressive and memorable, and he has established himself from the start as one of the world's great filmmakers. Lately he has drawn a ruthlessly cruel picture of modern Russia. His debut, The Return, winner of the Leone d'Oro at Venice, drew a rather terrifying but also astonishingly fresh and vivid picture of boyhood. His last film, Leviathan, looked at the whole country with moral disapproval. Something of both comes in Loveless, wherein a 12-year-old boy, Alyosha (Matvey Novikov), left distraught by the bitter impending divorce of his parents, Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin), disappears.

In The Return two young boys are confronted by the arrival of one presumed to be their father who has been gone for years and they have barely known, if at all. They spend an intense day with him, a fishing trip, retrieval of a mysterious treasure. Alyosha may have seen his parents every day of his life. But has Boris taken him on a fishing trip? Have they played catch? Can Alyosha even have dreamed of a real father? The opening sequence - after a passage of frozen trees, beautiful and chilling (Zvyagintsev always offers visual beauties, but they're only bookmarks this time) - is hideous domestic chill. Another couple comes to look at the apartment appraisingly; days of home are clearly numbered. Alone, his parents abuse each other. Particularly, Zhenya abuses his father, and is contemptuous of the boy. In an unforgettable image, we see Alyosha in a dark hidden corner wracked with sobs.

Boris has a young future wife who's pregnant. Zhenya is with an older man, well off, perhaps a bachelor or widower, we don't know. As we visit the two parents with their new partners, we know only that Alyosha goes to school. Boris' office job is at a company whose conservative Christian management disapproves of divorce. To stay employed there, he learns one must hide it. Thus marriage is just a facade that one must maintain. When Zhenya comes back late from a night with her new boyfriend, she goes out without even checking to see if Alyosha is there. He is not.

Most of what follows is a search for the boy. In the course of it we learn that Zhenya never wanted him. She was persuaded by Boris to marry him and keep the child.

There was a suspicion that the father in The Return was an ex-con and The Banishment and Elena were partly or wholly crime stories (but with intense domestic content as well). Loveless becomes a police procedural. Both police and a private volunteer organization carry out quite an elaborate search for the boy. It is winter, and when it begins to snow, there is a sense the search may have become hopeless. Since Alyosha appears not to have been in the protection of Zhanya's hellish mother, or hiding at the far off ruined "base" of him and his one friend, or scuttling around at some suburban mall, how can he be alive?

Zvyagintsev creates something new here, a sense of collective action (investigators marching through woods keeping scrupulously in sight of each other), the somewhat terrifying ruined modern building that was the boys' hideout, then the notices going up on street-corners, the buses, the rain. In contrast to this is the rather posh comfort of the adulterous beds, the soft covers, the duvets and pillows of the lovers, seen always in semi-darkness and at some remove, their coziness scant comfort because, the film is saying, these new parings aren't going to be any more successful than the first one.

The images of Loveless are beautiful and elegant, but it's a cold beauty that offers no solace. As reviewers point out, this film is full of disapproval of selfies, smartphones, the conveniences of the new Russia that are seen as coming with breathtaking materialism and a moral void. If Loveless has had its desiered effect, you leave the theater feeling awful. By intent, it shows you but, very unlike Leviathan, doesn't tell you much. It leaves you to ponder, in sorrow and some horror. And yet, as Anthony Lane suggests in The New Yorker, it leaves you more exhilarated than depressed, because it's alive and beautifully made. But it also made me think of the deepest inner bolgias of Dante's Hell, where all is frozen.

Loveless/Нелюбовь (Nelyubov), 128 mins., whose Wikipedia article calls it "a Russian tragedy film,"opened at Cannes in Competition May 2017, winning the Jury Prize; many subsequent awards and nominations at 27 other festivals including Telluride, Toronto, and London. French release (as Faute d'amour) 20 Sept. 2018; AlloCiné press rating 4.0. US release (NYC) 1 Dec. 2017, qualifying as Russia's Best Foreign Oscar entry. Sony distributing in the US, with limited release beginning 16 Feb. 2018. Metacritic rating 88%.

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