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Movie Review: Russian Oscar Nominee ‘Loveless’ Manages to Engross by Being More Ominous Than Depressing

CREDIT: Sony Pictures Classics

Starring: Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Marina Vasilyeva, Andris Keišs, Artyom Zhigulin, Sergey Dvoinikov, Matvey Novikov

Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev

Running Time: 128 Minutes

Rating: R for Tender and Vigorous Sex and a Glimpse at a Bloody Corpse

Release Date: February 16, 2018 (Limited)

If you think of Russia as a depressing wasteland of permanent winter, the premise – and title – of Loveless will not disabuse you of that notion. An Oscar nominee for Foreign Language Film, it tracks the saga of Moscow residents Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin), who are in the midst of a nasty divorce when their 12-year-old son Alexey (Matvey Novikov) runs away to escape the emotional turmoil. The rest of the film is focused on the search for Alexey, and there is little clue where he could have gone off to. He does not appear to be a target for kidnapping, he hardly has any friends to hide out with, and his grandmother would be a nightmare as a potential refuge. Zhenya and Boris seek comfort amidst their struggle with their new beaux (do note that there are multiple explicit sex scenes), but their lives remain cold and numb, and those relationships do not look like they would be all that fulfilling even if Alexey were still around.

The clues, or lack thereof, about Alexey’s whereabouts remain inscrutable and discouraging throughout. There is no omniscient viewpoint to even confirm the worst possibility. Despite that thorough lack of hope, Loveless is not as depressing as one might expect (or it least it wasn’t for me). It plays more like a mystery, and in that sense it is reminiscent of Prisoners, another recent ominous thriller about missing children. It is not quite as white knuckle as that nail-biter; it is more of a mood piece, weirdly akin to the snowbound wanderlust of the child-vampire film Let Me In (though not as much the more sunless Swedish original Let the Right One In).

There are a few inexplicable aspects to Loveless that suggest big implications but ultimately seem to serve no other purpose than setting the film in 2012. Whenever a TV or radio is playing, it is set to a news channel discussing either the American presidential election, the Mayan apocalypse, or both. Perhaps the politics angle means to say that the world is obsessed with America to the detriment of places like Russia. But I have no idea what that is doing in a film that is otherwise about domesticity. The possible apocalyptic symbolism is easier to parse, as the loss of a child can easily feel like the end of the world. But that obviousness seems out of place in a story that is mostly ambiguous. Overall, Loveless is an engaging portrait of emotionally deadness that leaves an impression, but seasoned with bits of absurdity that leave just as strong an impression.

Loveless is Recommended If You Like: Let Me In, Prisoners, This weird joke about a Volkswagen Passat and “Volkswagen Credit” (the humor might be lost in translation)

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Screaming Matches

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