Cannes 2017: Loveless Review
The cold, still air of the apocalypse sets over the small Russian town that Loveless takes place in. Newscasts can be overheard describing the impending 2012 disaster that the Mayans predicted by leaving their calendars incomplete. If an Earth-ending naturally happen to take place, it would be to cleanse the world of people like despicable Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Alexei Rozin). The newscast motif is used throughout; it is director Andrey Zyvagintsev’s way of depicting that chilliness that is all around — there’s evil everywhere. Zyvagintsev turned the humanism off in Loveless, a dour and exhausting affair that serves more to condemn humankind than to anything tangible or significant.
Zhenya and Boris’ household is under fires amidst their divorce as their loveless relationship completely dismantles in front of their young son’s eyes. The couple is trying to sell their house and one night while they are fighting it is revealed that neither wants to bear the brunt of custody of their son. Overhearing, everything the son runs away from home, which brings Zhenya and Boris together to find him, if only barely.
The drab plot is only heightened by Zyvagintsev’s especially brutal, callous outlook. The story is told with so much despondency, calculation and distance that Zhenya and Boris seem more alien than human. They are both such selfish, intensely pragmatic characters with no qualities beyond that. Their characterizations are so scathing that it was difficult to imagine that there has to be a point of the exercise in deplorableness. There is no character development, apathy or moral conflict. Is the point of this movie simply to depict that there are some people who have no foresight beyond their desires? That makes for a slight film and a boring character study.
The sterile and pristine cinematography by frequent collaborator Mikhail Krichman also seems at odds with the gritty realness of the story. Much like Zyvagintsev’s last movie Leviathan, the composition is gorgeous, and there are many arresting shots. This all just makes the ickiness of the situation seem that much filthier and shallow. The beauty almost glorifies the malaise, but that is the problem of the whole movies. Everything comes back to the fact that Zhenya and Boris are nasty individuals and everyone around them is in their way. There isn’t anything beautiful about what’s on the screen except the images. It stands for nothing except prestige and just comes off as self-indulgent and shallow.
This is a film that isn’t just Loveless, it is lifeless and mean. Zyvagintsev stabs at the darkness in everyone, but it is all so obvious. The only moments of escape for the audiences are sardonic jokes about people’s obsession with their smartphones, and even then the jokes are mean-spirited and stupid. If this is how people are, then maybe Loveless could serve as a wake-up call. The world of Loveless is unconvincing — people change, they develop, and they learn. Zyvagintsev’s depiction of moral stagnation is an evil one and there just isn’t much more beyond that.