Loveless, a Russian drama that won the Jury Prize at Cannes last year, is a hard, bleak film that leaves a knot in the stomach and a chill in the blood. It's late in the autumn of 2012, and Muscovites Boris and Zhenya are riding out a brutal divorce. Twelve-year-old Alexey is caught in the middle. One terrible night, he overhears his parents arguing and discovers that neither of them wants custody of him. There's talk of boarding school, maybe the army. Director Andrey Zvyagintsev (Leviathan) captures one of the most devastating images I've ever seen in a film: loveless Alexey, hiding behind a door, his face a silent scream of despair.
Alexey disappears from the apartment the next morning, although his mom and dad, who are sleeping over with their respective new lovers, don't notice until the school calls two days later. What follows is a grim procedural in which volunteer search teams scramble to find the missing boy in the urban wilds of Moscow.
Zvyagintsev financed his film with international money; his previous commentaries on corruption have left him out of favor with Russia's government and elites. Loveless is another angry indictment of the state. It's impossible to miss the sociopolitical allegory underlying the domestic tragedy. Boris and Zhenya are more concerned with status and selfies (people in the film are constantly looking at their phones) than their missing child. We observe no pity, no empathy.
In the unsettling final image, Zhenya looks directly into the camera, the word "Russia" stitched into her track hoodie. A desperate question hangs between her eyes and ours: What's happening to us? What have we become? Zvyagintsev is talking to his home country, but it's a question for us all.