Skip to main content

Review: "Loveless"

Some people should never get married. Likewise, some people should never become parents. Crudely enough, the protagonists of Andrey Zvyagintsev's new film Loveless fit both of those descriptions. The Leviathan helmer returns with another bleak and unflinchingly honest portrayal of family dysfunction and social politics. Loveless is also a commentary on modern Moscow. Zvyagintsev uses the car radio as the film's cultural master of ceremonies, informing the audience of the state of Russia, the political climate and expected societal norms. In fact, the only other time the car radio isn't used for exposition, is when a character turns it into an aural weapon to antagonize another character, by blaring loud metal rock during an inappropriate time. The coal-hearted characters in Loveless listen to the radio, but hardly to each other.

Early in the film we learn that Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin) are in the final steps of finalizing their divorce. While Zhenya is showing their high rise condo to potential buyers (a young couple who are expecting), they come across her twelve-year-old son Alyosha's (Matvey Novikov) room. Zhenya is cold with him and even hits him upside the head for not immediately greeting the young couple. We sense a strong disconnect between mother and son; this isn't a parent's warmth or a child's elation. Later that day, Boris comes home and he and Zhenya exchange some harsh words. It's not so much that the love is lost between them -- it becomes glaringly obvious that the couple only married because Zhenya was pregnant with Aloysha at a young age. They've been putting up the facade of a functioning family, but they don't want each other, let alone their kid.

But that's just the start of things. Boris impregnated a much younger girl and spends most of his nights sleeping at her place. The young girl still lives with her mom. And Zhenya, although she manages her own salon and is a strikingly attractive woman, is quietly falling apart. She distracts herself with her new boyfriend, a much older gentlemen with a postmodern-deco apartment but maybe her attraction to him is connected to her own at arms length upbringing. In a fascinating and unnerving scene later in the film, we meet Zhenya's mother, a spiteful woman who lives outside Moscow in a walled-up home. Everything we need to know about Zhenya's identity is trapped in those walls.

The plot wheels of Loveless really start to turn once Aloysha goes missing. Of course, in their selfish aloofness, it takes Zhenya and Boris more than a day to notice that their child is missing. The cops are of little help, but fortunately a volunteer group that searches for missing persons comes to their aid. Zvyagintsev and his cinematographer Mikhail Krichman create some gorgeously eerie imagery as the search party ventures through abandoned buildings and the unforgiving forest. Loveless is fascinating because we care so much about the safety of the kid but are forced to endure all the uncertainty of the search with protagonists (Zhenya and Boris) we very much don't approve of.

The film is nominated for the Best Foreign Film Oscar at this Sunday's Academy Awards. It doesn't offer any easy exits or answers and some viewers might find it more frustrating than rewarding. I do think that Zvyagintsev aims to unnerve us -- but with visual artistry and subtle introspection, and he succeeds in that. The final shot of the film is filled with muted desperation. I also want to point out that newcomer Novikov does some really impressive acting as the broken Aloysha. In only a few early scenes, we feel his devastation and his sadness hangs over the rest of the film like a dark cloud, following the characters wherever they go. He haunts our memories too.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Winnie the Pooh Mashup Trailer: "Christopher Robin & Ted"

"Sooner or later, your past catches up to you." That's the tagline  Disney is going with for their live-action Winnie the Pooh movie Christopher Robin , starring Ewan McGregor . While watching the teaser trailer (which debuted today) and getting my first look at a real life Winnie the Pooh talking bear, I couldn't help but be reminded of  Seth MacFarlane 's Ted , the R-rated comedy which featured a protagonist who's a foul-mouthed talking teddy bear. Ironically enough, MacFarlane's talking bear Ted has a much more cuddly and lovable look to him. Disney decided to give Winnie the Pooh a crude and homely-looking appearance -- not exactly what you'd expect for their intended child audience. So I decided to create this mashup trailer, which rewrites Christopher Robin's (McGregor) backstory to suggest that Ted was his original bear and he just sewed up the teddy bear's parts to look like Winnie the Pooh. Talk about your past catching up to y

#InformedImages: “There Will Be Blood” and “Narcos: Mexico”

#InformedImages is a Free Cinema Now series that studies and brings to light influential films and other examples of moving images that informed and inspired specific visuals in later works. I remember the exact the moment it clicked together for me. It was about half an hour into episode 2 (directed by  Josef Kubota Wladyka ) of Narcos: Mexico on Netflix . The camera crept across the dry, desert landscape toward a hole in the ground, where Rafael Caro Quintero (a.k.a. Rafa, played by Tenoch Huerta Mejía ) was digging furiously, in an attempt create a makeshift aqueduct to help grow his field of marijuana. It recalled images from the earlier sections of Paul Thomas Anderson 's masterpiece T here Will Be Blood, when Daniel Plainview (played by Daniel Day-Lewis ) was digging for oil underneath the rocky ground. Then, as I continued to watch Narcos: Mexico , a more striking visual parallel to There Will Be Blood began to emerge. For example, as Rafa and his boss Miguel Ángel F

Watch: ALL OF VENOM: Mashup of “All of Me” and “Venom”

Venom , the latest Marvel (anti) superhero film, limps into theatres this weekend with an unimpressive 30% on Rotten Tomatoes . However, I'm sure that won't prevent it from making boo koo bucks at the box office. What I'm more interested in is how Venom will fit into the annals of film history -- because it does! While this isn't my first Venom mashup video (see my The Venom Drop teaser trailer), I do think that my new mashup, All Of Venom , really speaks to what Venom  ultimately will be remembered for:  Tom Hardy 's committed physical performance and how it plays as a companion piece to the 1984 romantic fantasy comedy All of Me starring ( Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin ). In Venom , Hardy's character Eddie Brock gets possessed by an alien symbiote and must learn to share his host body with said being. In All of Me , Martin's character gets possessed by the soul of the recently deceased Edwina Cutwater (Tomlin) and -- yup, you guessed it -- must lea

VIDEO ESSAY: Paul Thomas Anderson's "The Master"

"He's making all this up as he goes along." NOTE:  I was fortunate enough to attend a rare 70mm screening of Paul Thomas Anderson's The Master on Thursday August 16, 2012 at the Music Box Theatre in Chicago, Illinois. In attendance were writer/director Paul Thomas Anderson and one of the film's actors, Kevin J. O'Connor (both of whom are pictured with me here ). --   The key to the success of Paul Thomas Anderson 's The Master doesn't come in its mammoth achievement of being shot on 70mm film or its carefully constructed parallel origin story of L. Ron Hubbard's Scientology practices. Rather, that success is embedded in an intimate scene: a single shot close-up on alcoholic war veteran Freddie Sutton (an unforgettable Joaquin Phoenix ) during a "process of time" session with Lancaster Dodd ( Philip Seymour Hoffman in prime Hubbard form). Up until this scene, the character of Freddie dutifully performed the task of delive

Watch: Errol Morris' 1991 Documentary on Stephen Hawking, "A Brief History of Time"

Yesterday we learned that the brilliant and world-renowned theoretical physicist  Stephen Hawking  passed away at the age of 76. In the early 1960s,  Hawking developed an early form of motor neurone disease, debilitating and paralyzing him throughout the decades. However, he did not let such a devastating physical disability stop him from becoming a truly iconic figure, thinker and leader in the sciences, and in specific, cosmology. Hawking's built a legacy of scientific works, breakthroughs and publications throughout his academic career but it was his best selling book "A Brief History of Time" that caught the eye of acclaimed documentary filmmaker Errol Morris (Oscar winner for  The Fog of War: Eleven Lessons from the Life of Robert S. McNamara ). Morris' doc A Brief History of Time  looks at the impressive life and work of Hawking, told in the signature way that only Morris can, all scored to a soundtrack composed by  Philip Glass . While the film is ava

Watch: TOM & CHERRY (Mashup trailer of CHERRY and TOM & JERRY)

Two big movie releases are available for streaming this weekend: Tom & Jerry on HBO Max and the Tom Holland -starrer Cherry over at Apple TV+. I couldn't decide which want to watch so I spent my evening editing their trailers together.  This is TOM & CHERRY:

Watch: Gaspar Noe's ENTER THE CATS

It's been quite the day for trailers. Ad Astra . It Chapter Two . Top Gun: Maverick . But I don't think anyone was REALLY ready for the promised "digital fur technology" of Tom Hooper 's Cats . The trailer is pure nightmare fuel. While watching it, the first thing that struck me was how dark and dreadful the film looked. Like physically and literally. I started thinking about how the film would probably be enjoyable while on some drugs. Then I started fixating on a shot of Idris Elba on top of a multi-colored lit building and the poster for Gaspar Noe 's Enter The Void  suddenly popped in my head. And after that, there was no turning back...

Video Essay: Mare of EATStown

  Not since Brad Pitt 's performance as Billy Beane in Moneyball have I been this emotionally invested in what a character was always eating or drinking onscreen.  In HBO's Mare of Easttown , Kate Winslet plays Pennsylvania detective Mare Sheehan. (Winslet is brilliant in the role.) Like Billy Beane, Mare's approach and understanding of her immediate environment or dilemma is translated through what she's consuming; it's as if the food or drinks become company players in her stage drama. And it's not just food either; Mare vapes and smokes too. Anything she consumes becomes important in the moment. My ears are listening to the dialogue and my brain is processing the plot, but my eyes and salivary glands are licking up the drops of condensate beading down her bottles of Rolling Rock.  The foods become so integral to the Mare experience, to the unfurling of her character, that at one point she's even attacked by a full gallon of milk (it's thrown through

Star Wars: Licorice Pizza

  If we were living in the the movie Minority Report , Paul Thomas Anderson 's latest film Licorice Pizza would get arrested for "Precrime." At least in the court of (some) public opinion . Anderson's film -- which I think is pretty great -- has come under criticism for the age gap between its two lead characters (15-year-old Gary and mid-20-something Alana), who go back and forth between friendship and playing flirtatious footsie. At no point in Licorice Pizza do they do anything sexual. Their feelings are sincere and the physical attraction is sometimes there, but it's all never acted on. Does that make the movie immoral? I don't think so. Could Gary and Alana some day end up together? I could see that. And Gary would (presumably) be of age by that point.  This age gap controversy had me thinking about a similar scenario...in George Lucas ' Star Wars: Episode 1 - The Phantom Menace . In the Star Wars films, we know that Queen Padmé Amidala will eventu

The 21 Best Films of 2021

Will movie theaters ever back to what they once were? The ongoing (and seemingly never-ending) pandemic tore a hole into the fabric of theatrical exhibition. I streamed more movies this year than any other. A lot of people did. The one constant is this: Whether you watch them on the big screen or on your phone, good films rise to the top. Here go my picks for the best films of 2021. (And some other notes too.) Biggest Disappointments: The Matrix Resurrections Candyman (2021) Don't Look Up Special Citation : Kanye with Special Guest Drake: Free Larry Hoover Benefit Concert Seanne Farmer (director) // Niklas Bildstein Zaar (creative director) Kanye West Free Larry Hoover Concert GIF from Kanye West GIFs Best Needle Drop: "Light House" by Future Islands in Titane Best Supporting Actress : Olga Merediz, In The Heights Best Supporting Actor : Simon Helberg, Annette Best Actress : Alana Haim, Licorice Pizza Best Actor : Alessandro Nivola, The Many Saints of Newark Before w