Editor’s Note: The following review is part of our coverage of the 2017 Cannes Film Festival. For more information please visit www.festival-cannes.com/en or follow the Cannes Film Festival on Twitter.
Andrey Zvyagintsev’s drama Loveless won the Jury Prize at this year’s Cannes Film Festival and focuses on a married couple in the middle of a nasty divorce when their mutual son goes missing. The Russian director already won an award for Best Screenplay in 2014 for Leviathan and was awarded the Special Jury Prize in the Un Certain Regard for Elena.
Set in contemporary Russia, Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Alexey Rozin) are going through a horrible and hateful divorce. They despise each other and are looking forward to the day they can finally move on with their separate lives and their new partners. Boris is about to start a new life with his younger and already pregnant girlfriend Masha (Marina Vasilyeva), Zhenya wants to move in with Anton (Andris Keiss), a wealthy and older man who offers her new possibilities and a different lifestyle. In order to leave their old life behind and start over again, they have to sell their apartment and decide on what to do with their 12-year old son Alyosha (Matvey Novikov). Until they find a buyer, the frustrated couple still shares the apartment and keeps on clashing with one another.
Alyosha is a very quiet and reserved young boy who is often seen crying. It is painful to watch him suffer through his parents’ divorce. In one of the most heartbreaking scenes, Zhenya and Boris fight over the custody of their child. One would assume that a loving parent would argue in favor of their child staying with them. This is not the case in Zvyagintsev’s Loveless. Alyosha overhears his parents discussing whether or not he should be sent to a boarding school since neither of them wants to take care of him and blame each other for their current situation. The camera captures him hiding behind the door, silently screaming and crying in shock and disbelief when the cold and harsh words come out of his parents’ mouths. For them, Alyosha is the cause for everything that went wrong in the first place since Zhenya and Boris married when they were both still young because they were expecting a baby.
One day, Alyosha disappears and we are unsure whether he was kidnapped or ran away. While Boris spent the night at Masha’s place, Zhenya returned home very late after a date with Anton. Their son had been unsupervised during the whole day and his mother did not even bother to check his room when she returned. As the police assumes that Alyosha is simply a runaway and will return after a few days, a volunteer group is set up to help the couple look for their son instead but once again, the bitter and soon-to-be divorced couple is unable to work together for the sake of their child.
As the title already implies, the film’s egocentric characters are literally loveless and remain cold and distant throughout most of the film. Zhenya had neglected her child early on and had been more interested in the lives of friends and strangers than her own son’s, constantly checking her social media accounts, scrolling through gossip and pictures. Boris on the other side had already moved on to his new family to have a fresh start, yet he is doomed to repeat the same mistakes all over again with his second child. Written by Andrey Zvyagintsev and his regular collaborator Oleg Negin, Loveless is a powerful and heartbreaking portrait of a broken family in contemporary Russia.
Loveless is a powerful and heartbreaking portrait of a broken family in contemporary Russia.