Lilla Puskás reviews Loveless, the Jury Prize winner at the 70th Cannes Film Festival
Loveless, Andrey Zvyagintsev, 2017, Russia, 127 min.
Though the award-winning Andrey Zvyagintsev is best known for his politically engaged, distressing Leviatan (that arrived to the Russian cinemas only in a censored version), his oeuvre consists largely of family dramas about abandoned children (The Return), an unplanned pregnancy (The Banishment), and inconvenient relationships (Elena). With Loveless, his latest film and winner of the esteemed Jury Prize at 70th Cannes Film Festival, the most famous contemporary Russian filmmaker returns to his early subject matters, focusing specifically on parental neglect and familial rage. At the same time, he interconnects toxic human relationships with social issues and the media.
Highly discontented spouses, Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin) make up their mind to sell their apartment and get divorced. Slamming doors and constantly yelling, their angry squabbles reveal deep disagreement. The single point on which they agree concerns the necessity of getting rid of their eight year old son. Alyosha (Matvey Novikov) is an obstacle to both parents; he precludes them from starting new lives by the sides of waiting partners. One evening, Zhenya and Boris decide that they’ll send their son to military boarding school. Overhearing this, Alyosha runs away, forcing his otherwise disengaged parents to team with a search expedition in the middle of the harsh Russian winter.
An exceptional aspect of this movie is the voice it gives voice to its female protagonist and to the agony of her postpartum depression. We learn that 8 years after giving birth to Alyosha, Zhenya still feels that her unplanned pregnancy has destroyed her life. In frequent testimonies, she expresses her deepest fears and emotions: in one tragic monologue she discloses that she hasn’t been loved by anyone in her life, not even by her own mother. Zhenya’s highly unusual persona as mother is compelling in the way that her character challenges, head on, many social taboos. In scenes where she grows hysterical and throws tantrums, actress Maryana Spivak delivers an emotional performance that is visceral and tough to take.
In the search for Alosya, policemen seem completely incompetent, but the parents obtain help from a child welfare organization that specializes in finding runaway adolescents. The search coordinator’s devoted, supportive attitude, and his actual interest in Alyosha stand in stark contrast to the parents’ negligence. The film emphasizes the tireless advocacy and efforts of social workers, who comb the town and blanket it with advertisements.
The sweltering atmosphere of Loveless is enhanced by Arvo Pärt’s violin pieces and gloomy, vaporous images. In interior, evening scenes, yellow and turquoise neon lights prevail on screen. Colors play a key part in Zvyagintsev’s movies, as they seem appropriate to emphasize relation between a character and setting.
Loveless doesn’t limit its critical approach to one family, but claims rather that its represented problems are deeply entrenched Russian culture and society. We learn that husbands and wives are often forced together by the “no-divorce policy” of their workplaces and by the expectations of the Orthodox Church. In addition, the movie places blame on social media and television for ruining communication between people.