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Loveless Review - In the searing Loveless, Zvyaginstev probes with forensic precision a marriage fallout and it’s ripples

Debanjan Dhar

Andrey Zvyaginstev’s 2017 Cannes Jury Prize winning film Loveless is about a splintered family , the vitiated relationship between a husband and wife , and a sharp, steely examination of the circumstances and histories that govern and decide on the inclinations and moods of the characters. The Russian master Andrey Zvyaginstev favours an austere approach in narrating his story which is both a relentlessly bleak look at the toxic heart of a curdled marriage and a spare, controlled fusillade against the pervasive consumerism and administrative apathy akin to contemporary Russian society.

Zhenya ( Maryana Spivak) and Boris ( Aleksey Rozin) are husband and wife teetering on the precarious icicle of uncomfortably patched together delusions about their marriage. No sooner are we acquainted with the two and their twelve year old son, Alyosha (Matvei) than we realise that those delusions have already been ripped apart . The couple are in the throes of change: an impending divorce, moving out of their apartment and finding new occupants , and new lovers. The son receives the short shrift. Zhenya is too entwined with her aspirations of social mobility, her personal upkeep or keeps herself busy in the arms of her much older lover, whereas Boris is obdurate about not pissing off his office superiors and is constantly wary and anxious that his changed relationship status might incur the wrath and swift disapproval of the Catholicist leaning and ethos of his workplace and his boss. Both parents are buried in their own private qualms and aren’t particularly gung-ho or interested in matters related to their son. Zhenya admits that she never wanted a child and she can’t feign maternal instincts and love for her child when she herself hasn’t ever known the true shape and form of paternal love. For her, her son is an embodiment of her past recklessness and her huge, rash mistake that have led her to her current state of emotional stasis in apropos of her wilting marriage. None of this is kept hidden from the child.

In a gasp-inducing camera pan, we see Alyosha weeping inaudibly, his features contorted , just behind the door of the room from which Zhenya hurries out only to resume her bickering with her husband. This shot presents an unforgettable image of pure horror of the consequences of sour marriages on children, to the viewer . Before we know it, the child has disappeared, and a long drawn out search for him begins, that quickly magnifies into full focus the deeply wedged-in simmering resentments, misgivings between husband and wife as they wrestle and spar with each other, with extreme viciousness that nevertheless is anchored in a well-realised authentic emotional core.

Director Andrey Zvyaginstev and co writer Oleg Negin excavate a relationship like an open wound. Zvyaginstev’s gaze is almost clinical , some might find echoes of Haneke but Zvyaginstev always accommodates space for a swelling, potent humanism. The husband-wife exchanges are caustic and the stuff of pure vitriol, and Zvyaginstev paints a grim, resolutely stark worldview and he leaches any pre existing measure of empathy and gentleness out of it. He pulls no punches in his portrayal of the characters, none of whom are afraid of revealing their worst, unkindest edges to each other. But the beauty of Loveless is Zvyaginstev never pushes us to judge any character , despite almost everyone in the film coming across as people with selfish agendas and committing some questionable decisions. Zhenya herself has never known true, generous love that she can pass on to her son. In a brilliant scene, we see her mother, an astringent woman who preferred and practiced harsh, disciplinarian mode of parenting devoid of any emotional nourishment, coldly refuse all responsibilities that have to do with her grandson. Instead of showing sensitivity to her daughter’s harrowing apprehensions and consoling her, she compels her daughter to confront her compunctions and revisit her regrets.

There’s an unflinching rawness and naked emotional vulnerability in Zvyaginstev’s study of festering human bonds and the decay in them that can take monumental proportions , if they aren’t checked at an early stage. Zvyaginstev zooms out to also reflect how the search party and the cops see their job as a mundane, regular matter of fact occurrence, wholly divested of any emotional connection.

Loveless works also because of the unfettered performances , particularly that of Spivak who pitches a brittle turn. Loveless is stinging and DoP Mikhail Krichman’s cinematography perfectly aids the desolation entrenched within the family and that of the snow-encrusted landscapes. The visual barrenness is in fine tandem with the emotional vacuousness.

Zvyaginstev will make you wince multiple times by not foisting any brutal imagery on the viewer , but by the suggestions of what happens when manufactured normalcy leaks out of relationships and it’s exposed for what it truly is.

You can watch this film on Netflix.

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Alternate Take presents a new pitstop for fresh , unbiased and hopefully perceptive thoughts on cinema. We are trying to create and build a community of critics , and sustain a exchange and dialogue between established, prominent critics and aspiring young critics.

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