Rated R, 127 minutes
In Russian with English subtitles
The new Russian family drama "Loveless" is a stark, yet superbly-acted portrait of modern Russian society, but also a compelling reminder of what happens when children are truly unwanted. Nominated for the Oscar this year for Best Foreign Film, it's a downbeat yet thought-provoking family-in-crisis tale.
An estranged thirtysomething Russian couple named Boris (Aleksey Rozin) and Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) are going through a brutal divorce, and both even have new partners They're both eager to start over until their 12-year-old son Alexey (Matvey Novikov, pictured above) disappears after witnessing one of their intense fights.
"Loveless" is a heartbreaking and disturbing look at how children are often the most affected when a family goes through a breakup. It's directed by Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev ("Leviathian" and "Elena") and he co-writes the screenplay with Oleg Negin. With harsh, moody lighting and photography by Mikhail Krichman, who's worked with Zvyagintsev on all of his films, sets the dark yet distinct tone early on; don't go into "Loveless" expecting an uplifting film because you won't find it here, even with an ending that resolves little of the major plot.
Still, "Loveless" is truly memorable for its moving performances from Russian actors Rozin and Spivak as the clueless couple already moving on with their lives, except they forget they have a child to take care of too. They're cast as both the antagonist and protagonist, as they're the cause for Alexey's disappearance but yet so desperate to find him too. As the child left behind, young Russian actor Novikov, in a small part, is so heartbreaking his face will likely be etched into your brain long after you leave the theater.
On that note, Zvyageinstev could've really hit a home run by focusing some of it from young Alexey's narrative, instead he spends too much time showing the parents' new relationships in graphic detail, which seem unnecessary to the narrative, slowing down the second act to a plodding pace, making the film seem longer than it really is. The dramatic string orchestral score is used effectively here by Evgueni Galperine and Sacha Galperine, particularly over the opening and closing credits.
"Loveless," even with a handful of flaws, is worth seeing, and the unforgettable Alexey will stay with you, long after he disappears from the screen.