Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless is an immaculate, sharp, powerful drama set in contemporary Russia. True to its name, the film is a bleak tale of dispirited couple Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Alexey Rozin) whose love for each other and for their twelve-year-old son Alyosha (Natvey Novikov) has been replaced by resentment and recriminations that leave them selfish and blind to his suffering. Loveless seamlessly blends themes of nationalism, consumerism, and orthodox Christianity, while depicting the effects they have on contemporary relationships, in which love has become a disposable commodity.
With an exhilarating performance from the young Novikov, Loveless is littered with heart-wrenching scenes that show Alyosha as an expandable souvenir from an unlucky marriage, that neither Zhenya nor Boris have space for in their brand new, and yet untainted, lives. This is until, after witnessing one of their fights, Alyosha disappears.
The cinematography and setting emphasise the film’s title, as well as the characters that inhabit its world. From chiaroscuro lighting, typical for noir films, to eerie shots of icy landscapes, the world presented to us is barren; far from the poetic imagery of a nurturing Mother Earth. Zvyagintsev does not offer us a glimpse of hope in any frame, but rather complements each element of the film through an exaggerated despondency. In short, the word “loveless” seeps from every corner of the film. It is not this, however, that makes the film so spectacular, but rather the understanding, or perhaps even sympathy, that a viewer can experience for the parents, who are so deeply flawed. With a marriage resulting from an unplanned pregnancy, Alyosha’s character is largely symbolic, questioning the archaic idea that a new life is always a blessing and that children are the essence and the glue of a family.
Through this beautifully sombre story Zvyagintsev explores and questions societal beliefs and ideals of parenthood, and the bond between parents and their children. Is the love a parent holds for their child really something so pure and instinctive?