Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Loveless (the Movie)

As divorce has become so completely normalized in our society, a timely foreign film has highlighted its horror. In the Russian film Loveless, Boris and Zhenya are a divorcing couple, whose relationship with each other is indeed loveless as is their relationship with their 12-year old son, who disappears after witnessing another one of his parents' arguments - a genuinely painful scene as he is shown, unseen by his parents but clearly devastated by his loveless family. Meanwhile, each of the parents already has another lover, although Zhenya at one point admits to her new boyfriend that she has never really loved anyone, including her son (and, as we eventually get to see her mother).

The film opens with a visually powerful end-of-school walk home as the boy wanders through the local woods. On the way he picks up a strip of tape from the ground (the sort that seems possibly left over from a crime scene or some other danger) and successfully throws it into the air and onto the branch of a tree.

After we get to see his self-centered parents at work and with their new lovers, we suddenly learn that their son has disappeared. His mother, coming home late from a romantic tryst with her rich lover, didn't even realize that he hadn't been home, didn't notice his absence until the school called her. In what is presumably an image of a comparably uncaring Russian state apparatus, the police appear unconcerned with what they assume is just a temporary runaway situation. In contrast - the one positive element in the story - a volunteer group that specializes in searching for missing persons is called in and quickly initiates an efficient community effort to locate the missing boy. The dedicated volunteers are the only real contrast to the bureaucratic state apparatus and the emotional horror of the missing boy's family life. They seem like nice people - otherwise apparently in short supply in this film.

It seems (unsurprisingly) that the boy is a loner, with only one real friend from school. The only relative it is thought he might have gone to is Zhenya's estranged mother, who lives a several hours' drive away. Boris and Zhenya's trip together to see her accomplishes nothing, except to increase the tension between them as well as between them and Zhenya's loveless mother. What one stereotypically expects in this sort of story is for the tragedy to bring the couple closer together, but they are both far too self-centered and consumed by their mutual hatred for that to happen. 

The search continues but with no positive results. As time passes, we watch foreign workers dismantling the family's old apartment, while the divorced parents are each now living new (but not obviously happier) lives. The final scene takes us back to the woods near the river where their son used to walk home after school. We see the strip of tape that he had thrown onto the  tree branch, now (along with the fading missing child posters) the only thing that seems left of him in this loveless world.

The film combines the visual beauty of the woods and the river and the snow in late autumn with the ugliness of modern suburban life. I particularly liked the woods, which reminded me of any area I sometimes used to play in as a child. The sledding scene also evoked such fond memories. All this is in marked contrast, of course, to the surrounding ugliness and spiritual emptiness of a loveless life in a loveless society in a loveless world.

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