When a couple decides to have a kid, they need to know one thing: their lives will become secondary the instant the child enters the world. Their needs and desires are shuffled to the side and the most important thing should revolve around being a good parent. As Michael Shannon's desperate dad told his alien son in Midnight Special-"that's the job." The most important job on Earth.
Aspiring parents to-be should watch Loveless, Andrey Zvyagintsev's brutally taut film, for how NOT to parent. Everything you watch Zhenya (Maryana Spivak reinventing the Bad Mom wheel) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin) do as parents of the 12-year old Alyosha (Matney Novikov) should be written down on a list describing the "do not's" of being a mother or father.
Loveless will beat you up emotionally and challenge you to place yourself in the worst possible situation as a parent for two excruciating. The film opens with Alyosha celebrating his favorite part of the day: leaving school and enjoying the slow walk home through the cold and isolated park area in Moscow. There's freedom in his ability to stop and fling a rope over a tree and stare out at the shivering water. He knows when he gets home, all he will hear is civil discourse between his parents, Zhenya and Boris.
Self-absorbed and mixing together like water and oil, these two are prepping for divorce in every single way imaginable-except caring for their son, who will take the blow the hardest. Zhenya has a new life planned with the kind and wealthy Anton (Andris Keiss), while Boris has already got a new place with Masha (Marina Vasileva).
When Alyosha goes missing suddenly, Zhenya and Boris must work together, along with a volunteer group led by Ivan (the very good Aleksey Fateev), to find their son before it's too late.
If you are a parent or even like kids in the slightest, you'll fume when these two disappear from their home for an entire day with their lovers while Alyosha is neglected. This film will hold your attention, but infuriate you every ten minutes. Zvyagintsev, along with screenwriter Oleg Negin, don't care about your feelings or how you'll react to full frontal nudity or harsh imagery. They are telling a sad but true story that happens every single day.
My takeaways from Loveless can be summed up by three things. First, it's absolutely beautifully rendered. The dark grays and blacks that consume a politically torn Moscow add juice to the mystery tale that develops into a hardcore yet honest procedural. Second, the filmmakers don't speed up the process for the sake of cinema. Each step in finding Alyosha is carefully taken and followed through on.
Third, Zvyagintsev and Negin present a sophisticated take on the missing kid scenario, digging deep for mad despair, which only increases the nuance of the painful yet well-done third act. Without beating you over the head mercilessly with the narrative, the filmmakers are using art to imitate life fairly close with defining results. If you don't leave this film removed from comfort or talking about how much you love your own kids, something may be wrong with your pulse or blood flow may have ran dry.
It's not all well. The political overtones in the film are overbearing at times and distract from the personal tale. We get the civil unrest in Russia, but don't need to be slammed over the head with it. Sometimes, filmmakers try to over-saturate a seemingly simple and powerful enough story.
Nominated for Best Foreign Language Film at the 2018 Academy Awards, Loveless deserves its place at the table of taut, realistic, and brutally honest thrillers. It doesn't pull a punch, flinch that often, or paint Zhenya or Boris as redeemable characters in order to make the audience feel more comfortable.
When the end does come and you see how little these two change even when coupled with the circumstances, you'll be disgusted, but quietly understand that very rarely do people actually change.
It's hard to say you loved a film called Loveless, but this film did everything it set out to do. I'll be waiting for Zvyagintsev's next film with dreaded glee.