Loveless (Nelyubov) recently received an Academy Award nomination for Best Foreign Language film, and it is most deserved. The film is as cold, eerie and unnerving as its opening shots of a frosty, empty forest. It's the type of story where you feel like you should not be a part of these tense arguments. However, the director, cinematographer and actors demand your attention, and you simply cannot bring yourself to look away from what's occurring.
Portrayals of bitter divorces in films are nothing new, even in the foreign language realm. The brilliant Iranian film A Separation explored a very difficult parting of a mother and father, and how their choices following their divorce affected their individual lives and that of their daughter, who loves them both deeply. Loveless, however, is an even darker film, highlighting how one young boy, Alexey (Matvey Novikov), is emotionally neglected by his selfish, egotistical parents, who are constantly trying to spite one another. There is at least some recognition from the boy's mother, Zhenya (Maryana Spivak), that she and ex-husband Boris (Aleksey Rozin) are not the best parents in the world, though: "Social workers... They will be overjoyed rescuing a babe from a house fire". When the young boy goes missing the parents really do have to accept their responsibility.
Loveless is a very appropriate title for a film like this; not only does Alexey not receive the love he needs during this challenging time, viewers of the film will not feel a great deal of adoration towards either of the parents. Although we learn enough about them to try and make us understand them (for example, Zhenya’s relationship with her own mother is not particularly healthy), their vindictive arguments paint them as miserable, even quite heartless characters. Zhenya, is verbally aggressive and loud, never holding back any of her feelings, while Boris, is more quiet and subdued, although it is clear that he is repressing a lot of anger also. This is a very bleak look at a crumbled relationship, two people thrown together by circumstance rather than love, and both actors really do give it their all.
Anyone who goes through a divorce should aspire to be the exact opposite of this couple; they could not be any less civil to one another. At one point, Zhenya very bluntly states to Boris "I never loved you. I just couldn't bear living with her [mother] anymore". Again, Boris mostly stays quiet during this tense conversation, until the very end of when that anger surfaces. Boris is the more engaging character because he goes through a number of different emotions throughout the film, while Zhenya appears hurt, angry, and emotionally distant, claiming to have never loved anyone since she was a child.
There are even times where you forget that the two share a son; they're so self-involved that it's difficult to remember that they're meant to be caring for a 12-year-old boy now more than ever. It's been a while since I've seen a depiction of such a cruel and unloving set of parents. Earlier on in the film, we see the young boy crying in the dark while Zhenya and Boris verbally slaughter each other. His disappearance makes sense, with his mother not even realising he’s missing straightaway, why wouldn’t he want to run away home? The fact that he has gone does force his mother and father to work together, however for a time.
While on the surface about divorcing parents and a missing child, it has a lot to say about society and empathy in a technologically-led culture. Loveless is far from an easy film to sit through; it's mysterious, disturbing, joyless and, at times, scary. Anyone who is looking for some lighthearted escapism can definitely look elsewhere. But if you're in the mood for it, Loveless is a captivating, stark and rewarding viewing experience.