Into the woods it’s time to go… no no no!
It’s hard to sum up my feelings following the hard watch of Loveless by Andrey Zvyagintsev about a divorcing couple in Russia that only notices their twelve-year-old son has disappeared on the second day of him not showing up at school. Frustration may be the closest word: frustration at the personalities of the two main characters who are so self-involved and busy with their lovers and superficial lives (dare I saw cowardly?) that they can’t even check on whether their child has gone to bed or not.
This film had me grinding my teeth and almost covering my eyes at regular intervals and this is thanks to the exquisite acting, cinematography and pace of the picture. I tweeted earlier that it was a portrait of mediocrity. What I mean is that the characters portrayed don’t show up, they don’t take responsibility, they are grown children who don’t value anything real.
Towards the end of the film, years after people have started looking for the lost child, flyers with his picture are still hanging at bus stops and on lamp posts, their colours fading away. Plastic is still flying in trees, electricity is still heating up apartments. One can capture how objects remain with time, but how does one capture a fleeting and empty life? Especially these particular lives that don’t really stand for anything but all of a sudden face real shock and despair.
At many moments throughout the search for the son, I thought he would appear again. The angry couple visits her paranoid mother, half hoping he will have hidden there. After they leave, the camera rests on her for a while. This almost made me believe the child was hidden in the house. Later, after an interview with one of the son’s friends and their school teacher, we remain with the teacher after everyone has left the room – could the son be in the school? Every new location, such as the woods in which orange-jacketed volunteers generously search without giving up, offers a new possibility of discovery, and the directing is neutral enough so that the outcome could go either way.
I have to talk about the actors here: Maryana Spivak as the wife Zhenya does of course show a heart, but one wonders whether she cares more about the image of herself she shows the world than about her son. She keeps repeating how she didn’t want a child and shouldn’t have got married, but opens up to her lover about her self-doubt. When stakes are high however, she is silent, as she has nothing to say for herself. A tremendous and infuriating performance.
Aleksey Rozin as the husband Boris is a child in an adult body, and is probably not meant to be a father. After the incident, even less so, but his mistress is pregnant and clearly shows that she needs him. I just wanted to slap him.
One can wonder about the treatment of women in this film – every single woman is either needy, mean, drunk or devoid of meaningful dialogue. I would say that the only “good” character was the head volunteer who happened to be a man. I think the director just wanted to tell a story where the majority of people are despicable and destructive.
Wealth also plays a role: these protagonists are comfortable, have steady jobs (even though Boris’ Christian boss would never accept his divorce) and enough money to get their hair done at the best salons. I believe this makes their shock hit that much harder, as they were until recently just cruising through their daily tasks. They never properly speak about their pain, and end up with their respective lovers, but at what cost?
This film punches us in the gut by showing us human emptiness with a big wallet. It makes us reflect on taboos and why being human is firstly about taking responsibility for ourselves and our closest ones. Still speechless.