In its most emotionally engaging terms, Loveless is a missing-child story and a chilling picture of a young couple’s marriage gone horribly sour. In larger and broader terms, this austere and haunting Russian film is a sidelong and darkly nuanced portrait of contemporary social life, in a place where assorted semblances of middle-class prosperity prove, more often than not, stifling.
The collapsed marriage and the missing child provide the central storyline, but esteemed writer-director Andrey Zvyagintsev tells those stories in an unhurried and moderately fragmented fashion that wanders among several characters and situations, without privileging any one individual point of view. The kid who will go missing is the first character we encounter and the last one we are asked to reflect upon at film’s end. But the boy’s parents and the people and places to which they are variously attached get the lion’s share of attention overall.
We see enough of the preteen boy to know he’s a solitary soul, roundly neglected by his unhappy parents, but capable of his own sort of dreamy wandering and defiance. Plus, he shows a certain self-sufficiency that perhaps comes of having been frequently left to his own devices.
The parents, Boris (Aleksey Rozin) and Zhenya (Maryana Spivak), are on the verge of divorce when we first meet them, and both are soon immersed in romantic relationships with others—Boris with anxious Masha (Marina Vasilyeva), who has children of her own, and Zhenya with Anton (Andris Keiss), an older man who is single and has an adult daughter.
There are small dramas and episodes of pathos emerging from these post-divorce relationships, all of which get further complicated once the missing-child incident settles in, midway into the film. And other characters of note—Zhenya’s harridan mother, a no-nonsense investigator, a sadly buffoonish colleague at the office where Boris works—amplify the ills and disappointments that seem pervasive among them all.
The setting is contemporary Russia, but much of what happens in this story might well have occurred in almost any urban area of the industrialized world. Loveless’ characters seem to live with their social media devices as much as they do with each other, and the film’s signature image just might be its extraordinary widescreen shot of office workers lined up like mannequins inside an elevator large enough to serve equally well in a warehouse or freight depot.