Loveless(2017) Review

Cast : Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Matvey Novikov, Marina Vasilyeva, Andris Keiss
Director : Andrey Zvyaginstev
Language : Russian
Genre : Tragedy, Drama
Synopsis : A couple going through a divorce must team up to find their son who has disappeared during one of their bitter arguments.

A Cinematic Subversion of The Failed Russian Dream!

Cinema has a way of cataloging the years and showing how people lived in a certain era. For many, the American Dream is a way of life, which may mean different things to different people. For one individual, it could mean amassing all the money in the world. For another, it could mean falling in love and staying with that person forever. To others, it could mean having the freedom to live life without the confines of society and rules. 

The American Dream has been the subject of intense cinematic commentary for decades. Citizen Kane(1941) is perhaps the film that started it all by exemplifying the lonely journey towards  the American Dream. The Godfather movies focus not only on the life story of Michael Corleone, but also depict how the American Dream was not just for Americans exclusively, as people from all over the world fell in love with the idea of having equal opportunities to achieve success. As in the case of the tragic figure of Michael Corleone, the dream is never equal to the reality, and even when you've achieved everything, you end up dying alone. Then there are films like Fight Club(1999) that indict the American Dream as bankrupt in its ability to provide religious, spiritual and existential meaning.

The main character in each of these films is a beneficiary of pretty much everything that the American Dream promises to offer. However, at the end of these films, they always find themselves spiritually comatose.

Although Loveless concentrates on the intimate story of one shattered family in Russia that is beyond any form of redemption, it feels like a universal tragedy, one that we recognize as the world's greatest sadnesses. Director Andrey Zvyaginstev's film is actually envisioned as a reflection of the Russian anguish towards an apathetic government, that is widely seen as responsible for creating a technological society where there is a clear lack of social bonding. There is something truly rotten at the core of the Russian culture, and that is primarily because like the parents, the Russian society as a whole is shown as 'loveless'.

This 'lovelessness' is best personified by the character of the mother Zhenya, who chooses to focus most of her time either climbing up the social ladder or taking selfies and updating her Instagram profile, rather than devoting her time to her son and husband. On the rare occasion that she does give them any attention, she ridicules them.

Last week, while reviewing Darkest Hour(2017), I mentioned how the film tells us that sometimes, it can take a few well strung words to galvanize an entire nation. So while Winston Churchill wins the prize for using words that can inspire, if there was a prize for using words that can permanently scar a person, then that would clearly go to Zhenya.

Maryana Spivak plays her with such pristine coldness that you often wonder if there is even an ounce of compassion left in her. No child should ever have to bear the burden of knowing that they are unloved or unwanted. However, when you end up having someone like Zhenya as your mother, you are truly doomed.

While the mother represents the apathy of the government, the father Boris best personifies the Russian anguish of the common working individual, who feels betrayed by the failures of the Russian Dream. As Boris, Aleksey Rozin brings about a cowardly like presence throughout the film. It's funny as well as sad to see such a big brute of a man getting his ego and self esteem shattered by Zhenya's stinging words, even as he passive-aggressively tries to weasel out of his familial duties. For the most part, you almost feel sorry for him as you see him getting repeatedly bullied and tormented by his nagging wife. However, director Andrey Zvyaginstev cleverly shows us that in sympathizing with him, we are only taking sides with the lesser of the two evils.

Cinematographer Mikhail Krichman does a splendid job of giving the film an ominous and reverberating look, by employing the use of harsh lighting and desaturated greys and browns. He even employs different visual approaches for both Zhenya and Boris. We often see her behind glass, and she's usually very posed, almost as if she's conscious of herself as an object. On the other hand, we often see Boris through tracking shots as he enters a space, or we're with him inside a car, driving on the road or entering parking lots. It's a very aggressive visual approach, one that is in complete contrast to the mother.

Loveless has the ability to give a very powerful strike into the heart of viewers. It is a highly symbolic yet emotionally resonant thriller that works on two distinct levels. At one level, it's a deeply emotional, tragic story. At another, it serves as a political allegory that tells a human story within a broader portrait of modern-day Russia.

It is very rare that a film manages to provoke gasps from me. This is one of those rare films.

I'm going with 4/5.


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