Cannes Review: 'Loveless' and Putin

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You could to go as far back as Shakespeare to truly witness just how important a work of drama's setting can be to the central themes and storytelling being told by the given author. Take for example "The Tempest," one of the Shakespeare's most accomplished works, which takes place on an isolated island, that isolation, the feeling of nothingness withered with a sense of loneliness, is used as an expressive political statement on colonialism and Western civilization's unhealthy addiction to settling land for political gain.

All of this brings us to Andrey Zvyagintsev's "Loveless," a profound and morose take on contemporary Russia from the director of "Leviathan," a film that made waves back in 2014 and which included a scene with its main characters playing a game of shoot the darts on a poster of Vladimir Putin. Putin is barely mentioned in this latest endeavor from Zvyagintsev, but his shadow looms in every frame. 

The film's seperated couple, Boris (Alexei Rozin) and Zhenya (Maryana Spivak), are soon to be divorced, all they have to do is sell their apartment and then they're off. They both refuse to take custody of Andrey (Matvey Novikov), their 12 year old son, a lonely boy stuck in the middle of the egotistical fight between these two reprehensible human beings. Hell, Adoption is spoken of as an option for Andrey. Zhenya had an unplanned pregnancy at 18 and, to escape her paranoid mother's wrath, decided to marry Boris at a young age. As you can imagine, It was not love at first sight, to Zhenya it was escape at first sight.

Zhenya barely acknowledges her son's presence at home, but when she does it is only done through verbal abuse. In a particularly powerful scene, the divorcees have another heated exchange in the living room, the camera slowly panning away, into Andrey's room and his powerfully moving sobbing face. It's an image that will haunt the rest of the movie as we'll see. There's a detachment and resentment in the way the 12 year old boy behaves that is inescapable. The last we see of him is when he runs out of his room, backpack in tow, and leaves the apartment building. Going where? We're not sure, but one imagines the words "anywhere, but here" roaming around the young boy's mind.

The carelessness of Zhenya towards her son, the scornful neglect of abandonment, is so profound that it takes two days for her to realize that he hasn't been home for the last 48 hours. What does she do? Phone Boris. Even with their son missing they still bicker, and it continually happens this way throughout the film. Authorities are not helpful and claim the boy will, the stats show they say, come back in "7-10 days" when he realizes that he "has it good at home." The parents don't say a word.The police forwards them to an all-volunteer organization which helps find missing children.

The search goes on, but so does the bewilderment of these "loveless" people. Which is where the film's Russian setting comes in. Russia should be considered a major character in "Loveless," as Zvyagintsev tries to show a society rotting at its core, one quite akin to the one we live in America, where people are hungry and desperate to climb the upper echelons of societal class and, you know, win, whatever that might mean, even if they might have to sell their soul, and dignity, in the process. Make no mistake about it, Zvyagintsev's decision to include multiple scenes of people glued to their cell phones, taking selfies, taking pictures of their food, is an indictment of the detachment, the vanity, the selfishness if you will, of a culture very much akin to our own. 

"Loveless" is, in the end, about western civilization turning into a numb, unemotional populace, one in which it is a burden to take care of a child and that your own happiness becomes more important than that of your own baby cub. The political establishment looms large in the film, like a big brother watching over these characters' every steps, watching lives being destroyed, but not caring one bit about the outcome.