Some Great Reward: Zvyagintsev Rips into Missing Muscovites
Bitter familial separation and newly fermented coupling are equal bed partners in what staunchly begins as a post-coital and post-breakup drama but veers into an exposition on an utter lack of empathy and civility. Less treacherous than Elena and structurally less complex than Leviathan (but yet characteristically procedural in it’s own right), Andrei Zvyagintsev’s latest shies away from passing facile judgement on absented-minded fathers and pass me down trait of awful mothers syndrome. Loveless imbues its stoutly stoic pair as deft in the egocentrism department but the kicker here is in how surprisingly void they are from self loathing in the face of true tragedy — the heart wants what it wants but the mind wants to forget. Restrained and richly barren, gorgeously photographed and containing performances that are emblematic of the film’s given title, once again Zvyagintsev makes a strong case for people looking for a way in, and/or in this precisely focused piece, a way out.
Co-written alongside regular scribe partner Oleg Negin, the story of mid 30s conscious uncoupling of Boris (Alexei Rozin) and Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) is not unlike what we’ve seen before: a fissure that probably led to adultery but the film’s present tense is mostly focalized on feelings of being absolved. By exploring personal agendas and positing its players outside the nest, finger pointing and bikini waxing suggests that escapist mechanisms of moving on narrowly lead to deep introspection and if one doesn’t keep their eye on the ball then the consequences are far more disastrous. Here, depending on who’s point of view is presented, their pre-adolescent son Alyosha is an unfortunate reminder of the perhaps forced relationship that was and it’s core, the fate of these characters is rather reciprocal.
Vacant industrialized backlots, and the mixture of posh and cramped living spaces further communicate what is also found in the first wintery tableau images: isolation goes hand in hand with absentmindedness and selfishness, but when their son goes missing and images from a war-torn neighbouring Ukraine are televised, the film spends considerable time with those who commit to the selfless act.
Shockingly extracting the warmth we normally associate with motherhood, Zvyagintsev thwarts the new beginnings apres divorce build-up in the first acts for a third act commentary on how both mother Russia and matriarchs could benefit from being more cooperative with their neighbors. Mostly coming across as an ice queen and carrying the personal baggage to prove it (in full display in a forced reunification of elder mother and daughter), what the character of Zhenya says, and what she thinks are two different realities and this is where mirrors and glass wall separations compartmentalization this impair cognitive understanding of what truly matters in the crisis situation.
A mostly joyless experience, Loveless nonetheless makes a compelling argument that a life’s regrets are more intrinsically linked to life’s rewards — it requires a lot more work than signing off on til death does us part legal documentation, being worried about what the boss might think, and not unlike diplomacy between continents, it takes more than a press a button gesture for anything meaningful to come about.
Reviewed on May 17th at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival – Main Competition. 127 Mins.