The Russian nominee for Best Foreign Film at this year’s Oscar ceremony, Loveless, gets off to a promising start before eventually going off the rails during its denouement. The film, which begins as a portrait of divorce and its effect on not only the man and woman at the center but also their offspring, loses ground when it changes the focus to simply commenting on the state of things in modern day Russia. The film feels as if it’s trying to make separate statements that never quite come together satisfactorily as a whole. Its intentions are obviously in the right place but this is a case where dialing back the scale of things may have been a good idea in hindsight.
The film begins with a sense of foreboding as twelve-year old Alexey (Matvei Novikov) attempts to make his way home through snow-covered terrain after school one afternoon. The opening elicits a sense of foreboding that is very effective in the film’s early scenes. This continues after the introduction of Alexey’s parents, Boris (Alexey Rozin) and Zhenya (Maryana Spivak). They’re recently separated and are already in the midst of new relationships and seem to really harbor an intense hatred for each other. In fact, their hatred is so strong that it leaves one to wonder why or how they ever got together in the first place. These two are so self-absorbed that it would be a miracle if any child they had together came out unscathed, emotionally or otherwise.
Alexey disappears one day, which really isn’t that much of a surprise, considering the relative lack of attentiveness Alexey’s parents seem to have in regards to anyone other than themselves. What’s a real mystery is whether the boy left on his own accord or was kidnapped. Zhenya and Boris are questioned, which leads to only more hostility between the estranged couple.
Zhenya and Boris receive a tip from one of Alexey’s childhood friends that the boy may have purposely run away as a result of the tumult of his home life. The film then segues into a police procedural as they comb the town looking for the boy. At this point the film switches gears and becomes a commentary on the futility of government institutions, particularly those in Russia.
Loveless contain some great acting all the way around and it paints a pretty realistic portrait of a marriage that has passed the point of no return. If only it had focused on that aspect, instead of injecting all of the other elements into the proceedings which never quite feel as if they’re fully formed. You’re left admiring the scope of the film but lamenting the result.
Loveless opens at the end of the month in Charlotte.
Image: Matvey Novikov in Loveless
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