Review / ‘Loveless’ (MA) ****

IT’S winter in St Petersburg. In the bedroom of an upmarket apartment Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and her lover are banging away while across town her husband Boris (Aleksey Rozin) is tupping heavily-pregnant Masha (Marina Vasileva).

Behind the bedroom door, Zhenya and Boris’ 12-year-old son Alyosha (Matvey Novikov) stifles his sobbing and tears. This is a family undergoing self-destruction. When Alyosha flees, it is two days before either parent notices his absence.

Writer (in company with Oleg Negin) and director Andrey Zvyagintsev has created a story that in another country might have worked its way to an inevitable sort of happy outcome. But Zvyagintsev’s objective is to tell a more sobering tale, about a country with a history that its masses might well wish would they could rewrite. But they can’t.

The USSR may have given way to a more affluent, less oppressive mode of government, but in that replacement, the middle class has lost sight of its origins.

“Loveless” is not an overtly political attempt to make sense of Russia’s immediate past. Zvyagintsev is delivering a scenario in which the best and the least-good elements of recovery from a past for which the kindest word is perhaps “difficult”, are learning to live alongside a present embracing much of what materialistic 21st-century life has to offer. Free enterprise. Jobs for all. Modern home and office conveniences. Imported cars. Hi-tech toys. Opportunities for wealth.

But have these benefits delivered comfort of the kind that Zhenya, Boris and Alyosha most need? That’s what “Loveless” is worried about. And so are we in the audience, as Zvyagintsev guides it along a narrative path less strewn with rose petals than it seems. It’s called life.

Its nomination in the Best Foreign Language Film category in this year’s Oscars and its sheer cinematic quality are thoroughly appropriate.

At Dendy and Palace Electric

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