“Loveless” is the latest film from Russian Director, Andrey Zvyaginstev. It is a bleak tale of a loveless marriage and the effects of this on the couple’s young son.
The movie opens with them arguing. During this scene, the most anguished moment of pure pain occurs when a door swings closed to reveal their son Alyosha hiding.
He is crying, in a soundless scream, as he overhears their wish, for neither of them to be troubled with caring for him, when they separate.
The picture proceeds, each parent pursues their new relationships, while completely forgetting about their child.
After two days absent from their apartment, they discover he has run away, and the film then follows a doomed attempt to find him.
Filmed against the background of a wintry Russian cityscape, “Loveless” is symbolic, of the state of contemporary Russia.
Zvyaginstev’s symbolism is subliminal, only descending to obviousness when he depicts the mother, running on treadmill, going nowhere.
She is wearing a tracksuit with the word “Russia” emblazoned on it – a not-so-subtle reference to the country’s malaise.
This negative tone is relentless throughout the movie. The main characters are flawed. Women, in particular, come in for a hard time in Zvyaginstev’s worldview.
The only moderately positive note is supplied by the volunteer search party, who, in contrast to the resigned hopelessness of the police, undertake to look for Alyosha.
But, even here, the plot is ultimately hopeless; there is no chance of finding the boy, and he vanishes into the snow-covered hinterland of urban Russia.
Zvyaginstev has been seen as a successor to Andrei Tarkovsky. Tarkovsky, who directed the masterpiece “Stalker”, was an dissident director of the later Soviet period.
He too had exposed the spiritual emptiness of a materialistic, corrupt society. But whereas Tarkovsky always aligned this against a religious view of the world, Zvyaginstev does not.
Although both criticise the official Russian Orthodox Church, and its right-wing hypocrisy, Tarkovsky nevertheless expressed a transcendental longing for what was lost in traditional religion.
For Zvyaginstev, however, there is no redemptive element at all. It is all gruelling, if still compelling, viewing.
“Loveless” itself is actually non-specific, placeless, despite references to Russian politics. It could be about anywhere in our globalised, consumerist system.
A similar movie could be made about the West, with its own spiritual vacuum, where the country and its people have no soul.
But “Loveless”, with its inherent pessimism, could never be a western movie. Hollywood would not allow such a downbeat finale. The American spirit demands a happy ending.
Perhaps we need an equivalent of Alexander Solzhenitsyn, who, exiled from the USSR, after criticising their Communist materialism, then condemned the West’s own Capitalist materialism.
But, as T. S. Eliot said: “humankind cannot bear too much reality”. The recent film, “The Florida project”, for example, focusses on poor people in the USA.
But it nevertheless wrings some positive vibes from the joyful lives of the children. Thus we retreat into comforting sentimentality, to hide from the gross truth.