Zvyagintsev’s films are often described as critiques of modern Russia, but I’m beginning to accept his constant denials of that interpretation, his assertions that he is apolitical and only interested in the human condition. Yes, his films are set in contemporary Russia and track the moral compromises and lack of justice in the lives of his characters, but surely Russia is not the only country in the world with such imbalances? It’s partly why Leviathan (2014) is my favorite of his films—simultaneously his most political (in its examination of small town corruption) and his most allegorical (alluding as he does to the Book of Job), encouraging overlapping schemas of interpretation.
Loveless is a narrowing of his scope in its account of an acutely estranged married couple so involved with their current partners it takes them a few days to notice their young son is missing. Corruption here is mostly in the hearts of the couple drowning in narcissistic fury. Although Zvyagintsev highlights police ineffectuality, he emphasizes the compassionate and hard-working group of volunteers who agree to help the parents (when they’re not fighting) locate their boy. It’s no surprise that Loveless was financed in part by the Dardennes’ Les Films de fleuve, as the story of a neglected child could easily have served as the basis of one of their narratives, but the Dardennes are more interested in personal transformation than Zvyagintsev, who follows the parents’ self-destructive disconnect to its bitter end. Constricting as it is, the depth of feeling is almost tangible with the film’s lingering takes of dimly lit apartments, fog-enshrouded ruins, and Brueghelian cityscapes. The child only appears in a few scenes, but his emotional suffocation is heartrending.