AFI Film Review: ‘Loveless’ is as Cold as a Winter in Moscow

2017 AFI FILM FESTIVAL: Cold and lifeless are the most apt words to describe “Loveless,” Russia’s official submission for the Foreign Language Film competition.

Simply put, this is the story of a missing boy. His parents are forced to work together to find their son and bring him home. Complicating the matter is that they have no idea whether he ran away or was kidnapped. And in Moscow, the police apparently don’t involve themselves with runaways because they simply don’t have the manpower.

Almost immediately, “Loveless” suffers from problems. None of the characters are developed in any way that makes them sympathetic, or even interesting. Apart from the fact that a 12-year-old boy is missing. A boy who disappeared a day after overhearing his parents argue over who has to take custody of him. Mom’s (Maryana Spivec) plan is to simply ship him off to boarding school so she can enjoy a kid-free life with her new boyfriend. And Dad (Aleksey Rozin) isn’t willing to take him in because it will disrupt life with his girlfriend and the impending arrival of their new baby.

So it is two deeply flawed and unlikable people whose story we follow as they navigate the system and each other in search of their son. Unlikable people can, and often do, work well in film. But in the case of “Loveless,” it does a disservice to the story. It’s hard to care whether these parents get their child back when neither of them wanted him in the first place.

Further deepening the frustration of the film is director Andrey Zvyagintsev‘s insistence on maintaining long, mundane shots. Someone making coffee. Or reading a book. Or hanging up a coat and staring into space. All of those details serve no real purpose and only drag out an already plodding story. 

The performances might have been fine if there was some substance to the characters. But the only one who ever got a moment to shine was Matvey Novikov as 12-year-old Alyosha. Although he’s gone for most of the film, he did a great job in his few scenes. Particularly in the moment when Alyosha overhears his parents not wanting him.

The film isn’t all bad. While the story’s conclusion is wholly unsatisfying, there is the slightest glimpse into the future and the realization that the experience did change the family forever.

The best part about “Loveless,” though, is the score from Evgueni Galperine and Sacha Galperine. The score is beautiful from start to finish. It is never distracting or overpowering. It was lovely to hear and accomplished exactly what a film score should: setting the tone for each moment.

Overall, unfortunately, “Loveless” is as bleak and endless as the winter snow into which Alyosha vanished.

“Loveless” will be distributed in select US theaters by Sony Pictures Classics beginning December 1.

GRADE: (★★)

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MOTION PICTURE | DIRECTOR |
LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | 
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING | MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS |
ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG |
FOREIGN LANGUAGE | DOCUMENTARY FEATURE |