Loveless places narrow lives inside a wide-screen frame | Movie Review | Chicago Reader

Loveless places narrow lives inside a wide-screen frame 

Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev (The Return) uses empty spaces to define a dead marriage.

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click to enlarge Maryana Spivak in Loveless

Maryana Spivak in Loveless

Except for The Return (2003), Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev has shot all his films in wide-screen. The format is crucial to the thematic content because Zvyagintsev uses negative space within the frame to convey his characters' sense of alienation. This technique peaked with the searing anti-Putin allegory Leviathan (2014), Zvyagintsev's best film to date, in which his compositions take on a political dimension, making the characters seem like pawns in a system beyond their control. His latest feature, Loveless, which opens Friday at Music Box, is no less cold or bitter than Leviathan and uses its wide-screen frame almost as effectively. The characters tend to be isolated from each other, the physical space between them reflecting their emotional distance.

From the start of the film, the principal characters recoil from one another. Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin), a Moscow couple going through a divorce, have long since lost any sympathy they had for each other; when they meet, they argue over the sale of their apartment or the custody of their 12-year-old son, Alyosha (Matvey Novikov). Zvyagintsev and cowriter Oleg Negin devote the first half of Loveless to the couple's daily routines, showing the partners separately as they go to work, run errands, and meet with their respective lovers. Boris is afraid to tell anyone at his office that he's getting divorced, because his boss is a fundamentalist Christian who pressures his employees to marry. In fact Boris is more worried about his job than about his son, whom neither he nor his wife wants to raise. Zvyagintsev periodically cuts away from the principal story to show Alyosha as he navigates life on his own; unloved by his parents, the boy seems destined to become as alienated as they are.

At the midpoint of Loveless, Alyosha disappears, forcing his parents to put aside their differences as they and the police search for him. The hunt inspires some of Zvyagintsev's most impressive wide-screen imagery, long shots capturing groups of characters as they roam open landscapes in pursuit of the boy. These images are more powerful than any of the characterizations, which are less complex than one usually finds in the director’s work. Zvyagintsev and Negin reveal early on that Zhenya and Boris are selfish and spiteful, and everything that follows reinforces these initial observations. The director may be a master at setting a mood, but his insights here don't cut especially deep.  v

This review has been corrected to reflect that the father and son are named Boris and Alyosha, respectively.

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