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  • Writer's pictureMax Markowitz


Brutally Evil & Hauntingly Powerful

Andrey Zvyagintsev’s Loveless is powerful, but not inspiring. It’s powerful in a darker sense. Loveless is an ice-cold bitter brilliant drama about why it is impossible to live without love.

In the Leningrad region of Russia in 2012, Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin) are divorcing and trying to sell their apartment. Both are in new relationships. Boris is with Masha, (Marina Vasilyeva) his younger mistress who is pregnant with his child. Zhenya is with Anton, (Andris Keiss) an older wealthy man with an adult daughter. Zhenya and Boris’s 12-year-old son Alyosha (Matvei Novikov) overhears his parents arguing one night, neither of whom claim to want him.

Alyosha soon goes missing and the police believe he’s run away and will return in a few days. Alyosha, of course, does not return and volunteer groups who specialize in missing children take over the case. As time drags on, more viciousness takes place spirling everything into complete and utter chaos with no clear end in sight.

I’ve always believed you can feel empathy for a person and judge them at the same time. Maryana Spivak’s performance is the first example I think of when internally confronted with this belief. She exhaled the harshest chemicals of reality into Zhenya’s lungs prior to filming so by the time audiences watch, those chemicals have reached her heart. Zhenya is an angry, damaged, broken person who never should have had a child. The only relative Alyosha could have sought refuge with is Zhenya’s estranged mother whom she, Boris, and a volunteer go see. She lives four hours away and they wake her up at midnight. That one scene between Zhenya and her mother answers every question as to how Zhenya became who she did. Zhenya’s mother is a rageful mess that can terminate any goodness in someone with one look. She is, as Zhenya says, God and the Devil wrapped in one.

Zhenya and Boris’s drive afterwards is Loveless’s most unforgettable scene. Zhenya calmly says her marriage to Boris while pregnant was a mistake and she should have had an abortion because she never wanted kids. She says he’s ruined her life, she never loved him and she only needed to escape from her mother. She also expresses pity for Masha and insists that if Boris can still get it up in 12 years, he’ll do the same thing to her. Boris just drives silently with a blank expression on his face as he lets Zhenya calmly rant. He’s so tired and worn down by this point, but so is Zhenya.

The difference between them is that she’ll leave his life kicking and screaming while he’ll just leave. He doesn’t care enough to have the level of trauma and anger Zhenya has towards the world because he can’t relate to it. Unfortunately for Zhenya, a four-hour drive can only take so much anger as the scene ends with Boris pulling over on the empty highway while it’s still dark out. He forces her out of the car and abandons her.

The cinematography is amazing in this scene and every other. Loveless is filmed in very bleak snowy environments and the surroundings symbolize the characters. The score reminds me of a tik-tok clock ringing the same sound repeatedly because everything is now ruined for everyone.

Loveless also deals with how petty our world has become. The only time you really see any smiles (Aside from Zhenya when she’s with Anton) is when Zhenya and other women take selfies. Throughout Loveless, you’ll see young women taking selfies. It may be sexist that men aren’t included in exposure to this realistic propaganda (Because some may feel it makes women look bad) but this is beside the point. The point is that with everything else going on in Loveless, you get a real glimpse at what people really care about and it's all so shallow.

Zhenya has found a future with Anton but that future doesn’t take away her trauma. It simply allows her to start fresh. She will always be broken. The sincerity of her hatred has already ripped out everything inside her. Loveless isn’t about her unraveling, it’s about how the unraveling has already taken place. Zhenya’s animosity towards others comes from her own self-hatred. She absolutely hates herself, her mother made her feel disgusted about herself. If she doesn’t hate Boris or Alyosha, she’ll have to acknowledge hatred of herself, and that for her is suicide. She doesn’t know how to be happy because she’s never been.

“I want to be happy so badly,” she tells Anton at one point. Anton is very kind and gentle and she’s never had that before. Their sex life is very full and in a very creepy but real way, he’s like a father figure to her. She never had a father and she sees one in this older man she’s starting a future with. Spivak has given one of the decade’s best performances in her portrayal of Zhenya. I may never see her in anything ever again and yet, Zhenya will stay with me for life. That’s what it means to be haunted. That’s the essence of a truly flawless performance.

Loveless is a film no one will enjoy watching but it’s so important and psychologically educational, I have to recommend it. Loveless is a brutally evil film about parental neglect, self-hatred, exhaustion, and lovelessness. One may ask what the point of the film was. I don’t know, you tell me. Many people these days ask how we got here and why many of us treat each other the way we do. I found Loveless to be one out of many answers to those questions. How can governments obtain enough love of their countries to make them better when many of us with less responsibility can’t even find a drop of blood in our hearts to love ourselves?

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