Russian director Andrei Zvyagintsev has produced another masterpiece in this apocalyptic study of a failed marriage and the subsequent disappearance of a child
Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Loveless is a stark, mysterious and terrifying story of spiritual catastrophe: a drama with the ostensible form of a procedural crime thriller. It has a hypnotic intensity and unbearable ambiguity which is maintained until the very end. This is a story of modern Russia whose people are at the mercy of implacable forces, a loveless world like a planet without the full means to support human life, a place where the ordinary need for survival has mutated or upgraded into an unending aspirational demand for status, money, freedom to find an advantageous second marriage which brings a nice apartment, sex, luxury and the social media prerogative of selfies and self-affirmation. But all of it is underpinned, or overseen, by intensely conservative social norms of Christianity, conformism and nationalism.
Loveless reminded me of the same director’s Elena – and it also has the unflinching moral seriousness of Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage. The story of a disappearance which betokens some larger, metaphysical dysfunction has something of Antonioni’s L’Avventura – a film whose importance and example continues unabated – and the single, static shot of a school about to let the pupils out may have taken something else from that other touchstone: Michael Haneke’s Hidden. The grim presence in this film of elderly mothers – secular Buddhas of reactionary cynicism who show every sign of inducing their children to become their duplicate – reminded me of Philip Larkin’s lines about man handing on misery to man and it deepening like a coastal shelf.