Movie Reviews: Loveless (Nelyubov) (2017)

One more Best Foreign Language Film nominee down and one step closer to putting this whole Oscar business behind us.  Today’s film comes to us from Russia and director Andrey Zvyagintsev whose last film Leviathan was the last Russian film nominated in the category, but not exactly one some in their country have been proud of despite the almost universally positive reviews.  But I haven’t seen it and even if I had, frankly that’s a discussion for another day.  There’s enough to worry about Russia in my country’s government without having to worry about Russia own oppressive nature.

Plus, the political content in this film is limited.  It’s not missing, it hangs in the background with religious fundamentalism serving as the driver (if not focus) of the plot and scenes showing news coverage that have all the cadence of political reference, but none of the impact.  Maybe it works better for Russians, but for me, it just felt crowbarred in much in the same way all the talk about the upcoming Mayan apocalypse thing felt.  I mean it did date the movie effectively and added to the air of bleak fatalism of the film, but frankly, one shot of the drab Russian city with its bland, utilitarian buildings which even knew probably looked decades old and covered in snow did that just fine.

If you’re wondering why I’ve been avoiding mentioning the plot too much or even mentioning the creepy looking kid on the poster, it’s because, this film is one of those “the plot itself is a spoiler” films where even discussing the characters broadly feels like a spoiler.  Not that the film is quick to get to this point as it spends quite a bit of time all over the place story wise.  While it gets more focused later or at least figures out what it wants its story to be, it’s still something that drags the film down quite a bit.  It’s not just scenes that seem superfluous, the whole film feels awkwardly edited with it as if we came into certain scenes midway through or that they are from a subplot that got left on the cutting room floor.  In addition, I appreciated the way that the film gave time to scenes that would have been montaged away in another film, but after a while, it’s not hard to see why they are.

The focus of the film is a family of three in the process of splitting up.  The parents can’t stand each other but seem much better off with their new partners.  There is one minor complication though that is coming between their splitting apart for good though.  Well there’s a couple others but those subplots are abandoned without comment.  It’s that aforementioned creepy looking kid who neither really cares for.  The wife just wants him out of her life and regrets not aborting him while the husband… I’m not entirely sure where the film intends for him to view his son, whether he wants his son with his wife to keep him out of the way or because that’s what is perceived by others as the right thing to do which is what matter.  There’s a sense that the film feels differently about these characters than me, more charitably towards the wife (though I think it was trying to make a point about her mobile usage that fell fairly flat with me) and less towards the husband and as events unfolded, it provided a foundation of sand to develop upon.

It’s a bleak and affecting film but it’s a messy one that feels like it is missing something.  Something as a whole and something from scene to scene that is lacking.  The performances, cinematography, all the intangibles are all really well done, but they can only cover so much for some shaky characterization and awkward scene choices.  Lovelessness may be at the center of the movie, but the film can’t help but feeling contrived in the way it keeps characters miserable.  At its best, the film makes characters who aren’t the most likable and who are introduced basically fighting against custody of their kid into people you want to find happiness, but at its worst I struggled to understand what the heck the film was trying to do.