Love in the times of social media (Loveless movie review)

“Loveless”, directed by Andrey Zvyagintsev, is a story of a contemporary Moscow family who is going through a difficult divorce. Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin) are still married, but each of them is building a new life with new partners and therefore they are in a hurry to complete all the divorce formalities. In the face of constant bitter conflicts and endless mutual grudges, they completely forget about their only son, 12-year-old Alyosha (Matvey Novikov), who by both characters is treated as a necessary evil and a potential obstacle on their way to happiness. The boy feels unwanted and rejected (he sees and hears more than his parents think). Unexpectedly, after another brutal argument that he overheard, he disappears from home.

Alyosha is for his parents both – a burden and a constant reminder or a confirmation of their failures. He is in the age of first rebellion, but his behaviour is not only the reflection of raging hormones and performative realization of the idea of adolescence, but also – or above all – the defensive answer for the atmosphere in the house. He pretends to be indifferent and unmoved, but his heart is broken and he doesn’t really know how to keep going in the world that offers him neither safety nor understanding. Zvyaginstev seems to be a director of affects and emotions. In the first part of the movie there is not much going on and dialogues are not too engaging, but the narration remains thrilling. When Zhenya and Boris are fighting, they use words that should never be said and do it with such an intensity that their anger and their regrets materialize. The woman seems to be especially cruel, while the man makes impression of a deeply broken, hurt person.  But – what’s important – the director doesn’t suggest that only one part of this marriage is to be blamed; on the contrary – he focuses on presenting different ways of hurting or using others and turning their lives into living hells. One of the most devastating scenes is the one in which Alyosha listens to his parent’s series of mutual insults from behind the door of his rooms and silently screams into space; cries, but no one hears him.

“Loveless” is a cold meditation on the fact that the ability to love and right to being loved is neither primary for human life, nor obvious. It’s a vision that situates itself far away from the optimistic narrations typical for handbooks of good life and from the images of relations that are presented in colourful magazines. What’s important, the movie of Zvyaginstev is not nihilistic. It should rather be interpreted as a deconstruction of pop-cultural picture of love that leads its director to the narration about characters who are antiheroes defined by their weaknesses. The second part of the movie turns into a thriller – the action concentrates on the dramatic search for the lost boy, but at the same time it becomes a pretext to get to know the couple of protagonists a little bit better. Alyosha’s parents are not made as character that could be liked, but they also aren’t presented as individuals who are monsters or emotional wrecks. The Russian director doesn’t suggest that they bad, he shows how terrible they story have become and what had led to the culmination of brutal, bitter absurd.

What’s important, Zvyaginstev is not an ordinary director of psychodrama. He extends the family drama to political and metaphysical cinema. “Loveless” is a movie about crisis of values that affects not only people, but also political and justice systems; it’s a movie about Russia and its middle class, whose representatives experience the world through the screens and treat life rather like a material for next selfie than as space of metaphysical drama that isn’t based on social media interactions. The director is merciless and brilliant at the same time. His movie seems to be parable that is composed on bitter observations that were turn into fiction that looks like reality.