It’s no doubt a coincidence that Loveless, the latest film from Leviathan director Andrey Zvyagintesev and an Oscar nominee for Best Foreign Language Film, should start appearing in American theaters the weekend after Valentine’s Day, but it’s apt. Set on the outskirts of Moscow — where blocky apartment buildings abut deep, dark woods — it portrays what happens after romance fades and the passion slips away, and who gets hurt by its absence. It’s a slow-motion tragedy in which one couple’s disillusionment comes to stand in for a kind of national malaise. Early on, one character drives to work as a news broadcast from the winter of 2012 talks about “apocalyptic sentiments,” but the film is less concerned with cataclysm than the way things fall apart in slow motion.
There is a catastrophe at the heart of the film, but Loveless takes some time getting there. It opens with a scene in which 12-year-old Alexey takes the long way home from school, walking a path through the woods and taking his time as he makes his way back to one of those interchangeable apartments, where he lives with his mother Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and father Boris (Aleksey Rozin). For now. It soon becomes apparent why Alexey was in no rush to get there. His mother berates him as she shows the apartment to prospective buyers, a young couple expecting a child. His father isn’t home and won’t be until after Alexey has gone to bed. When Boris arrives, he finds Zhenya drinking wine and watching TV while thumbing through social media. They launch into the latest of a long string of fights with little regard as to whether or not Alexey can hear them. In the film’s most devastating shot, we see that he can as he sobs silently behind a door, taking in every awful detail of their argument.