Tag Archives: Russia

LOVELESS (Nelyubov)

Four Star Rating

“…Alyosha (Matvey Novikov). A helpless pawn stuck in the middle, condemned to try and make some sense of the never ending spiteful bickering of the two people he most depends upon.” – Wayward Wolf.

Andrei Zvyagintsev’s Loveless starts as it means to go on. A sequence of stark lingering shots of a snow-covered unforgiving Russian winter.

These images are actually quite beautiful in isolation and arguably offer only a hint of the pervading mood of downbeat misery that is soon to follow.

Don’t be put-off however by such an apparently down-cast summary.

Zvyagintsev’s film is in fact a brilliantly observed study of the most negative aspects of a failed relationship, made all the more harrowing through the involvement of a child, the couple’s young son, Alyosha (Matvey Novikov). A helpless pawn stuck in the middle, condemned to try and make some sense of the never ending spiteful bickering of the two people he most depends upon.

Alyosha’s parents – two fine performances full of conviction by Maryana Spivak (Zhenya), and Aleksey Rozin (Boris) – have both found new partners and long to bring the curtain down on their sorry, loveless marriage, and ‘start again’ – as it were. They have become two eminently unlikeable characters. Zhenya, an angry (primarily at herself), highly irritable individual obsessed with the comforting distraction of her mobile phone, and Boris, who whilst frequently drawn into exchanges of vitriol with his wife, is a somewhat withdrawn man, distancing himself as much as possible from any contact with either Zhenya or Alyosha. 

It’s a relentlessly toxic environment, made worse still by the parents’ apparent lack of concern as to the affects of their self-absorbed sniping, upon their young son.

Unusually for such a predicament as this, neither parent makes any attempt to curry favour with the child; quite the opposite in fact. The fight, it would seem, is for who’s not going to take custody. Alyosha is seen as an inconvenience, a mistake that never should have happened, and his parents have absolutely no qualms about voicing such hurtful opinions in full earshot of the distressed youngster.

It’s no wonder therefore that the day soon arrives when the young lad grabs his school bag and makes a bolt for the door, never to return. And such is the self-centred attitude of his parents, neither of them even notices this for almost two days.

But is this actually genuine neglect of an impressionable youngster, or more likely the inevitable comeuppance from their high-stakes psychological games?

Two films sprung to mind whilst watching Loveless: Myroslav Slaboshpytskyi’s 2015 Ukrainian film, The Tribe – a film similar in its mood and sense of helplessness that focuses on a run-down boarding school for the deaf in which harsh life lessons are dished out with depressing regularity. But perhaps of more direct relevance is Joachim Lafosse’s 2016 mournfully awkward relationship drama, After Love (L’Économie du couple), a film which whilst being almost exclusively – and excruciatingly for that matter – downbeat, does at least offer, for the most fleeting of moments, a rare olive branch of hope and potential redemption.

Zvyagintsev’s film on the other hand makes no such concessions. In fact, the Director seems determined to walk his audience, almost in real-time, through every last awkward moment of not only the couple’s frequent fights, but of their increasingly desperate and forlorn attempts to track down their absent son, whether that be through a vague lead offered up by Alyosha’s friend, or a visit to Zhenya’s appalling mother. “Stalin-in-a-skirt” indeed.

The outlook is grim, and there’s a lingering sense of just ‘knowing’ as rescue parties comb their way through surrounding woodland and derelict buildings, to no avail. All the while, the warring couple barely utter a word to one another. Certainly there’s no sense of galvanised togetherness, if only in the interests of the greater good.

Nothing.

Loveless is an open-ended, consistently powerful film with an underlying message suggesting that if we don’t address and learn from our own deficiencies, our troubles have a nasty habit of ultimately coming full circle.

It’s bleak, it’s brutal and it’s hard to watch, but it’s equally hard to ignore.

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FILM REVIEW: Bridge of Spies

Whilst it’s a film with serious overtones and occasional moderate violence, Bridge of Spies is quintessentially Spielberg; that is to say that no matter the gravity of the subject in hand, his tendency is and always has been to focus more upon human character, spirit and emotion than any type of warts and all harsh sense of realism.

In many ways, that’s what makes Spielberg a director that can appeal right across the board to every generation.

In Tom Hanks, there is no better actor to convey Spielberg’s vision. Hanks, here cast as Jim Donovan, an attorney assigned the frankly thankless task of providing legal representation for captured Russian spy, Rudolf Abel (a low-key but fine turn from Mark Rylance).
Abel’s ‘defence’ in a 1950s America, gripped by the cold war, is of course purely lip service; a token nod to the constitution, but nothing more than a charade to appease the collective ‘conscience’ of the American public.
It seems however that Donovan hasn’t read the memo and is clearly a man that upholds the constitution’s words and sentiment; it being the one and only thing, he feels, that truly defines what it is to be an American.
Predictably Donovan’s attempt to overturn Abel’s three espionage convictions fails, but he does succeed in convincing the judge not to send Abel to ‘the chair’ – pointing out that in these days of the Cold War, Abel may well be a key bargaining tool should the U.S. authorities require some leverage at a later date.
Down-grading a capital sentence of course, does not go down well with a fearful American public.
Almost inevitably, with a U.S. pilot shot down and captured behind ‘enemy’ lines, not to mention a young American economics student wrongly imprisoned in East Berlin; very much at the behest of the CIA, Donovan begins his initially reluctant transformation from attorney of law into key U.S. negotiator, in a bid to have released, now, not just one, but two U.S hostages.
In another director’s hands Bridge of Spies I’m sure would have been a very different beast. Spielberg’s gentle handling of the Coen brothers’ and Matt Charman’s script leans heavily on character and dialogue and one genuinely white knuckle aircraft sequence aside, there are few thrills and spills to speak of. Any opportunity to confront the gratuitous head-on, tends to be neatly side-stepped, to the film’s benefit it should be said.
Hanks is excellent. The supporting cast are top notch, and it’s all beautifully shot and put together as you’d expect from a Spielberg offering, re-imagining well the harsh realities of a mid-twentieth century, winter-stricken Berlin and the glaring contrasts thrown up between its East and West regions.
Everything is knitted together well by a pleasant enough, clearly John Williams-inspired orchestral score, supplied on this occasion by veteran Hollywood composer, Thomas Newman.
Does this now mean that Newman is Spielberg’s ‘go to’ music man?
Time will tell…
I suppose any criticisms levelled at Bridge of Spies might revolve around whether the whole story is perhaps a little sugar coated, with Spielberg, as mentioned earlier, choosing to focus more upon one man’s emotional journey than the ugliness of cold war, but that would be harsh to say the least.
It’s possibly not one of Spielberg’s finest, but it’s fine nonetheless, and yet another Spielberg piece that will doubtless last the test of time.
Recommended.