The final image is striking: A woman in a “Russia” tracksuit furiously striding on a treadmill alone in the cold. Election meddling aside, it’s the perfect metaphor for life under Vladimir Putin, a self-absorbed tyrant determined to return his country to the bleak, totalitarian days of the former Soviet Union. It’s a perfect ending to a perfect movie. But that’s just the start of what makes Andrey Zvyagintsev’s aptly titled “Loveless” so rich in depth and meaning.
Its scathing indictment of the Russian leader is so arresting, it’s a wonder Zvyagintsev wasn’t arrested himself by the FSB. But to the contrary, he’s so cleverly disguised his critiques behind a Bergmanesque domestic drama, Russia submitted “Loveless” as its official entry into the capitalistic Academy Awards. That it didn’t win on March 4 is a bigger scandal than the Steele dossier. Perhaps the film’s true meaning escaped Oscar voters as readily as it escaped the Putin regime.
Don’t make the same mistake. “Loveless” is a must-see for anyone who loves thrillers that confront and challenge. And its digs at a selfie-obsessed populace so rife with self-absorption it allows a corrupt strongman to lead them around by the nose while stealthily picking their pockets shouldn’t be seen as something exclusively Russian. In many ways, depending on your political stance, it is us, the Kardashian generation. And it’s scary.
So is the story containing all this political commentary. It’s every parent’s worst nightmare: The disappearance of your small child. Only the level of concern by the lad’s selfish, soon-to-divorce parents, Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin), is questionable. Neither of these two cretins wants custody of 12-year-old Alexey (Matvey Novikov), and he knows it, tearfully overhearing Mom and Dad playing a game of hot potato over who is going to get stuck with him. Both have moved on, lined up new lovers and made plans that don’t include Alexey, who both fondly refer to as “the worst mistake of their lives.”
An inkling of compassion slips in once Alexey vanishes, although it takes them two days to realize he’s even gone. Both are too busy tending to their new lovers, Anton (Andris Keiss) and the very-pregnant Masha (Marina Vasilyeva), to notice. But are their emotions born of concern, or is it guilt? That we never really know for sure during the ensuing search is testament both to the superb acting and the take-no-prisoners script by Zvyagintsev and Oleg Negin. Theirs is decidedly not a thoughts-and-prayers approach. In fact, everyone seems determined to turn the despicableness up to 11 — and they succeed.
The question is: Will you go along? No doubt it’s a tough ride, but the rewards are considerable, both in the storytelling and in the acting, which is universally terrific. These are characters you love to hate. You feel a hint of smugness erupting until you realize you might share some of the same “qualities”: The transfixion with your cell phone; the hunger to feed your sexual desires; the tendency to view society from the perspective of what’s in it for me, not what’s in it for us. You know, the kind of thinking that allows opportunists like Putin to seize unquestioned power.
In many ways, what happens to Alexey is what’s happened to the rights and freedoms of the Russian people, whose apathy toward government affairs were a despot’s best friend. It’s not unlike what Zvyagintsev achieved with his last film, another Oscar nominee in “Leviathan.” The criticisms on modern Russia in that masterpiece were less obtuse, but no less powerful. But with “Loveless,” Zvyagintsev is more savage. He’s mad as hell and not afraid to let you know it. And the oligarchs aren’t happy. He’s threatening their system of thievery and greed with his subtle needling. He’s becoming as big a pest as Asghar Farhadi is in Iran, using seemingly innocuous domestic dramas to take big swipes at their nations’ oppressors.
They are the best directors the world has to offer when it comes to addressing the dictatorial, war-torn mess our world has gotten itself into. And what makes that so, is their abilities to not just tell vivid, compelling stories, but to also strike devastating blows against the power-hungry powers that be. They also surround themselves with actors every bit a brave as them. And Spivak and Rozin are no exception. They don’t just go along with the loathsomeness of their characters; they relish the opportunity to be as abominable as inhumanly possible. The nasty, passive-aggressive digs they exchange are electric, not to mention, cynically funny. And if you think they’re awful, wait until you get a load of Zhenya’s battle ax of a mother.
True, contemptibility isn’t everyone’s cup of tea. And that’s likely a large factor as to why “Loveless” didn’t win the love of the Motion Picture Academy. But if you prefer your movies tough, unnerving and fearless, “Loveless” fills the bill. Even more, it’s a stunning indictment of complacency, and a reminder of how fast something you love — like our democracy — can suddenly go poof if you look away, even for a second.
Cast includes Maryana Spivak, Aleksey Rozin, Matvey Novikov, Marina Vasilyeva and Andris Keiss. (In Russian with English subtitles)
Written by Al Alexander, Source: St. John News