Loveless is Zvyagintsev’s eulogy to humanity lost, the severing of connections in the fetishization of the material – an absence, rather than a presence, a dark jewel, which, when observed against the light, shows no reflection.
This lack of illumination envelops the viewer slowly, through stark, elegant, unadorned images of mundane activities amidst an emotional catastrophe that goes unnoticed in a terrifying battle of wills, a bitterness towards life that seems to be a philosophy rather than a reaction to any damage received.
A couple is divorcing. She has an older lover, he has a younger girlfriend who is pregnant. Their son is twelve, neglected to an appalling degree, not in anything material, as his room is full of gadgets and comforts, but in an emotional deprivation that is almost unbearable to witness on screen.
It takes some time for these two self-absorbed vortexes of banal activity to notice that their young son is missing from home, and even longer to grasp the reality of the situation, as the reality of their lives is of a matrix kind, ordered and predictable, a place where every next step is carved in stone.
A monumental shift in perception needs to take place in order for them to acknowledge their culpability in his plight, and anything that might have happened in his escape towards oblivion. That shift never truly occurs, and we are left without epiphany, catharsis, even a conclusion – an implosion of lack rather than a fullness of comprehension. A vision of Russian society transposed to the global simulacrum, compulsively seeking connection through technology, feeding an essential need with empty calories, constantly starving, while quietly, and permanently, letting go of the palpable space in between, the locking of heartbeats, the acknowledgement of another’s breath, a denial of existence of the other, which, in essence is an absence of love.
This film, more than any other I have seen of late, impacted my view of humanity, a perspective that is both real and extreme, more the terrifying as it does not require crimes of a wide scale for people to become heartless. The crimes perpetrated in Loveless are crimes of neglect, the unwillingness to reach out and let go of resentment, the inability to soften again, after life has hardened you, the danger in this human capacity of complete compartmentalisation, and the way society entirely facilitates it.
The film seems to be a direct indictment of Russian society today, and it certainly has a homegrown flavour of embedded desolation and savage materialism enveloped in a false spirituality and inefficient bureaucracy, of a very specific kind. But I see its face in all contemporary societies, as the pattern of human inter-relations is now a planetary reference point, a homogenised diversity, of sorts, where everyone is searching for that next hit of self-value and gratification in the small screens we stare at hypnotised every day, rather than the faces of the humans that surround us.
There is a saving grace to this desolate landscape of isolation and emotional ignorance – the self-organised, self-funded, self-motivated group of volunteers that search for the missing children in a society that does not want to know of the ones that fall behind. There is a heart-beat there, a concern, a seriousness of intent, a ground to stand on and air to breathe when we leave to auditorium after this absolute masterpiece of heartbreak.