Lillian Crawford: A Loveless heap of shit

There is slow-moving, and then there is complete immobility; opinions will differ over what is present hereWHY NOT PRODUCTIONS

Towards the start, a character plays Solitaire on their work computer in the corner of the screen. It might be presumed that, bored by the mundanities of life, they had decided to amuse themselves with this menial game. The viewer of Loveless soon comes to sympathise with this anonymous worker as it becomes apparent that the film has no intention to challenge or stimulate in even the remotest sense. When young Alexey runs out of the picture early on, the audience might be well-advised to follow suit.

“It is depressingly hollow, its namesake absence extending to all forms of human emotion”

The plot is understatedly simple, and remains so throughout the two-hour runtime: parents fight, child leaves home. The fact that it takes half the film for his mother and father, played by Maryana Spivak and Aleksey Rozin, to even notice he is gone is only the pinnacle of reasons one soon comes to loathe them. The former is a vulgar narcissist, snapping photos of her lobster and wine waiter while holding meaningless conversation that might have been written hurriedly on a used napkin by Oleg Negi and director Andrey Zvyagintsev. She remains painfully impregnable as a protagonist, revealing little emotion beyond irritability. The latter is her double – obtuse and dry, the camera finds two extended shots of his luncheon tray moving along a cafeteria buffet more interesting. Indeed, some of the most exciting moments are attempting to contrast the meals he eats, swapping potatoes for broccoli in what might tenuously be described as the film’s ‘highlight’.

It is perhaps a testament to Loveless’s bloated weariness that the subtitle writer loses the will to continue – a visual pun of “wrapped” sees the ‘r’ entangled with the ‘w’, and in an inconsequential scene with some workmen, lines are simply dubbed “[speaking Tajik]”. This provides one of several laugh-out-loud moments of unintended comedy (on balance, regrettably, this does not make for a case of ‘so-bad-it’s-good’), especially jarring following the film’s ambiguous climax, featuring an outpour of sudden emotion woefully absent in preceding scenes. Nevertheless, the sickening imagery at the close, albeit brief, fails to quite pack the gut-wrenching stab for which it gives itself credit.

WHY NOT PRODUCTIONS

Characters and scenes come and go in this manner throughout, with very few ever being mentioned by name. One drawn-out sequence sees the boy’s parents drive out to his grandmother’s house, despite her living three hours away and having no information to give regarding his whereabouts. Here Zvyagintsev actually seems to desire to inflict pain on his audience, filling the auditorium with pounding rock music and further droll dialogue remarkably self-aware of the film’s condition – “A miserable heap of shit.” It contrasts Evgueni and Sacha Galperine’s minimalist, yammering score that plucks and pounds alongside the lack of action, creating a sinister atmosphere otherwise inexplicable.

At the end, Zvyagintsev seems to want to make Loveless say something about Russian society, with news reels and radio bulletins depicting the continuing military conflict. The placement of a forest in the middle of the brutal urban landscape might say something of the dangers of industrialisation, the obsession Alexey’s parents have with phones and work distracting them from the love they should show to their unwanted son. One particularly pretentious shot sees a gargantuan satellite dish through the trees, and in its overtness, any much-needed subtlety is lost. At least it is more thought-provoking than unnamed teachers cleaning blackboards and a man dropping a forkful of rice.

There are striking parallels to the worst films of all time – the dashboard POV shots are reminiscent of Birdemic’s incessant opening, and the bizarre furnishings of the apartments make for as much fun as the framed spoons in The Room (favourites include a dead tree standing next to an unused extension plug). The random and explicit sex scenes pop up repeatedly, as in the latter, with stand-out examples depicting heavily-pregnant anal and erotic apple-munching. But unlike either of these films, there are no laughs here. Indeed, on a purely cinematic level, Loveless is a fine work, but it is depressingly hollow, its namesake absence extending to all forms of human emotion. To say that this was a disappointment from Zvyagintsev following Leviathan is as gross an understatement as its title.

Hugh Oxlade: The Great Loveless Divorce

After Alexey runs away from home, it takes an hour for the search to beginWHY NOT PRODUCTIONS

Loveless caused me to do something which I have not done in a cinema for a very long time indeed: think. Not think about whether I needed to pick up some orange juice on the way home, or about the article on religious art in post-Reformation Britain I was meant to be reading for a class the next day. Goodness knows there have been more than enough films released this year which have provoked those kinds of thoughts.

“There were no releases of adrenaline, certainly, but I found my mind constantly being directed to unexpected, and fascinating, places”

Instead, I was thinking about the characters: the dilemmas they faced, how happy they were, what the consequences of Loveless’s central event would be for them. This was a sure sign of highly competent filmmaking. Later, however, mere thinking found itself transformed into the truly heady stuff that is contemplation: How far is our society responsible for these characters’ actions? Who are we at home, and who are we at work? Which tragedies are the most important? Why do we behave as we do? What is love? Can, or should, love conquer all?

Perhaps, therefore, the greatest of Loveless’s many merits as a work of art was that it provided the time and space for this divine rumination. The pace of the ‘action’, what little there was, did indeed vary between the slow and the practically stationary. Any faster, however, and the opportunity to probe, examine, analyse, reflect, and marvel, would have been denied. As a result, the sensation of watching it was just as exhilarating as any high-octane explosion-fest; there were no releases of adrenaline, certainly, but I found my mind constantly being directed to unexpected, and fascinating, places. Instead of white knuckles, a sense of freedom from everyday existence’s narrow intellectual bounds, and instead of gasps, moments of the very profoundest insight.

Trailer for LovelessYoutube

As well as this distinctive and most delectable quality, Loveless was replete with all the conventional facets of an excellent film. The cinematography was consistently impressive, the shots of the search and rescue teams striding through the briar and through the woods being nothing short of virtuosic, while the mirror shot at the end was among the finest examples of its kind. There was intensity, occasionally of a brutal kind, and there was humour, as well, the outbreaks of deadpan farce preventing the film from becoming an unrelenting exercise in mordancy.


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The characters in Loveless were certainly flawed. Yet they were flawed in intriguing, and ultimately understandable, ways, and at no point did these flaws preclude one from wishing the characters well. The film was constructed in so deft a manner that revelations about the characters were essentially unceasing. The sex scenes, above all, were of the choicest tenderness, and the intimacy displayed by the characters when in bed proved the crucial means of appreciating their behaviour outside of their cosy cocoons.

While watching Loveless, for sure, the mind wanders. It wanders along paths laid down, in exquisite fashion, by the film. This is the point of Loveless. Those seeking a thrill-a-minute, edge-of-your-seat rollercoaster ride should look elsewhere

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