Russia's Oscar Entry 'Loveless' Uses Divorcing Couple to Delve Into Nation's Moral Issues

Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival
'Loveless'

Andrey Zvyagintsev's film, which focuses on a broken family whose son goes missing, has been criticized for its cynical view of contemporary Russian life.

When director Andrey Zvyagintsev first got the script for Loveless, a drama about a divorcing couple who must come together when their son goes missing, he was baffled by just one thing: the film’s title.

“I decided to make it a working title and later find a better one,” Zvyagintsev recalls of Oleg Negin’s script. “I had other ideas — for instance, Battlefield. But I got used to this title and even began to love it because in a very precise, surgical way, it expresses the main issue of our film.”

Zvyagintsev describes the film about the Moscow couple (played by Maryana Spivak and Aleksey Rozin) as a story “about how people who have been married for 12 years are entering a streak of complete misunderstanding and inability to find a common language and, moreover, develop hatred for each other.” For Zvyagintsev, “loveless” means not just the absence of love but the antithesis of love, “something bigger than banal hatred or cold indifference.”

Loveless is Zvyagintsev’s follow-up to his 2014 Oscar-nominated Leviathan, which won multiple international awards but was harshly criticized at home, with many accusing the director of deliberately painting Russia in a negative light. The same criticism has been leveled at Loveless, for its cynical view of contemporary Russian life.

“I know that I am honest to my films and my films are honest to reality,” says Zvyagintsev. “As a director, I primarily think about the degree to which the artist is free and can speak openly.”

Most criticism of Leviathan, which centers on government corruption, came from Russia’s culture ministry, which had provided some funding for the film. For Loveless, the director chose not to use government funding. He says he feels there are still opportunities for filmmakers to express themselves in contemporary Russia. “As long as there is a free voice of the artist,” he says, “we need to express ourselves in an honest way.” 

This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.