Loveless Andrei Zvyagintsev (Russia 2017) Maryana Spivak, Alexsey Rozin
Tyneside Cinema 13 Feb 2018; ticket £9.75
Like Three Billboards, Loveless has a pretext at the core of its script: the disappearance of Boris and Zhenya’s son Alyosha.
This pretext is in itself rather ridiculous and barely stands up to even superficial scrutiny as it supposes that the son of this blighted couple was enough of a clueless sap not to realise that he is totally unloved. Given even the glimpses we get of the parents’ relationship with Alyosha before his disappearance event, it is not believable that his overhearing of their attempts to divest themselves of responsibility for him can have done anything other than confirm what he already knew.
Zvyagintsev’s real intent in Loveless is to make some sort of critique of the relations characterising Russian society by stripping bare the nature of his characters self centred existence, existences detached from any sense of the shared life.
But it is typical of Zvyagintsev’s conceit that he imagines the audience will accept Loveless as any sort of real critique. It’s a movie that using the resources of script, camera work and face is packed out as a realist fable but is simply an exercise in manipulation.
Manipulation is all that Zvyagintsev has to offer. As if Zvyagintsev was the first to observe that the continual obsession with mobile phone impoverishes being, indicates lives cut off from the world and their own feelings; as if Zvyagintsev’s camera with its continual slow tracking into the object of the lens: the couples fucking, the people sleeping, means anything other than manipulative dramatic heightening of the image; as if the exaggerated hard faciality of Zhenya was anything other than a director’s trick to pander to the audience.
With its slow tracks, its hard rictus, its closed off script with its soap opera retorts and gestures, feelings of hopelessness are scored into the grain of movie. The audience are in effect excluded from Loveless, as Zvyagintsev doles out his banal insights with the subtlety of a sledgehammer. There is nothing to see in the film other than Zvyagintsev’s diktat. In a film about relations there are no other meanings than what the literalism of the director construes.
In indication of Zvyagintsev’s literalist method is to be found in the scene where Boris and Zhanya visit the morgue to see if they identify a body as that of their son. With the camera on the parents there is the moment of theatre as the drape over the body is pulled over to reveal the corpse. There is the reaction of shock as the parents (Zhenya in particular) reacts to the horror to the sight of the dead boy. Eventually both parents stammer out that the body is not their son. That is enough. The scene is complete. We need to know, to see no more. For a second I was a little surprised thinking: Wow! Zvyagintsev has resisted his compulsive literalism for once has not shown us the body we do not need to see. But at the very instant of the thought Zvyagintsev cuts away from the faces of the parents to the body that we don’t need to see. This body we have already appraised. You can’t keep a good man down. Zvyagintsev’s compulsive literalism and his need to show it all, win out.
This scene is characteristic of the movie. The script is heavy handed, soap opera stuff with every biting insulting line delivered by the divorcing couple underlined – so that we get it. The acting the fucking deliberately orchestrated by the banality of the camera work, construed so that we get it.
Zvyagintsev has nothing in common with Tarkovsky. He is a sort of obverse social realist tripping out an individualised moralism. Looked at form one point of view his direction shares many of the traits of his protagonists. In Loveless, there is no perception of what is happening only mechanics (including the mechanics of the organised search for Alyosha which rakes up a lot of time) , no state of mind, no point of view. Just Hollywood back stories and strips of action from the location of work.
Opening his film with a series of black and white shots of the nature, the forest the lakes the birds, and finishing the film on the strand of construction tape lodged in the tree where Alyosha had thrown it in an earlier sequence, doesn’t not make Zvyagintsev a Tarkovsky style film maker. He has simply learned from the surface of Tarkovsky’s ideas and missed the substance.
And Alyosha stays disappeared. He doesn’t show up in the final reel. But there again Zvyagintsev might not have known what to do with him. adrin neatrour firstname.lastname@example.org