As the title would suggest, this is a cold, somewhat hard-to-watch film in which the two main characters are bitter and selfish people. Zhenya and Boris are at the tail end of a vicious divorce, with both determined to hurt each other as much as possible, and leaving their 12 year old son, Alyosha, as collateral damage. Boris is portrayed as quiet, brooding and preoccupied. A keg ready to explode. He is clearly fed up with his soon to be ex-wife, and out of touch with his son. Zhenya is a scorned woman who came from a rough background. She is full of rage and resentment, lashing out at both Boris and Alyosha whenever possible. She is a hateful mother, with borderline abusive tendencies. Boris has cheated on his wife and is starting a new life with his pregnant girlfriend, while Zhenya is focused on a serious new relationship of her own. As they aggressively push their marriage over the finish line, they put their apartment in Russia on the market and pack things up, mentally as well as physically. Throughout the process, they make it clear that neither of them has room for their son in the next phase of their lives.
In a particularly pivotal scene, Boris has come home late from work and the two fall into what is obviously an all too familiar routine of arguing vehemently while they assume Alyosha is sleeping. As the fighting ensues, they debate who should take custody, with neither wanting to assume responsibility. Unbeknownst to them, he is in the next room quietly sobbing, ravaged by rejection, fear and depression. Sometime at the end of next work day, Boris and Zhenya stay overnight with their new lovers, but thinking the other is at home. It is only upon Zhenya’s return well over 24 hours later, that she realizes Alyosha has not been at school or home the whole time. Unloved and unwanted, Alyosha has vanished from the town and their lives. Is this a matter of a runaway child, or foul play? The contentious couple are forced together to help in the search that has already started two days too late. Delaying the search and seemingly making matters worse, is an uncaring police officer who is dismissive of the child’s disappearance and refers them to a specialist.
Although the unfortunate circumstances has made the couple face some inner demons, they are not rebuked or punished for their sin of neglect, and you want them to be. There are no true revelations nor seemingly lessons learned. Although on one hand filmmaker, Andrey Zvyagintsev (“Leviathan” 2014) excelled at showing the raw realism of the disintegration of a marriage that should have never been, on the other he seemingly, missed opportunities to create a grittier mystery and develop intrigue and deeper character development. Being the brilliant director that he is, one can assume this is by design. Hauntingly shot in blue and grey tones, “Loveless” is a stark, taut, uniquely interesting drama filled with soul-less personas. This could possibly be appropriate to the particular community and to these specific characters than would be elsewhere, but at times feels a bit too alienating. Perhaps this contribute to what many say makes it “very Russian” and why it has deservedly earned a Best Foreign Language Oscar nomination. At its core, we are given the only one sympathetic character, and he is gone early on. Instead, you are left with Boris and Zhenya. They are like the horrific car accident you should but can’t turn away from.