Loveless (15)

THIS eerie mystery drama from Russian writer-director Andrey Zvyagintsev (Leviathan, Elena) takes an uncompromising look at the breakdown of a marriage and the singularly devastating effect it has on a child caught and forgotten about in the middle of it all.

After many years of unhappy marriage, Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin) embark on a bitter divorce. Boris has cheated on his wife which has led to another pregnancy, leading Zhenya to enter into an unstable sexual relationship with an older man.

In the midst of his parents’ increasingly heated arguments and self-absorption, their 12-year-old son Alyosha (Matvey Novikov, making a devastating impact with only a few minutes of screen time) runs away. But so caught up with their bickering, it’s a while before his mum and dad realise he’s gone. Once they do they set out to find their missing son, hope slipping away with each passing day.

This is a beautifully constructed film, each frame meticulously crafted with a kind of elegant solidity to guide the viewer’s eye or instil a sense of loss-filled unease at the lack of progress being made. The absence of consistent music, instead utilising sporadic bursts of Evgueni and Sacha Galperine’s score to pierce the deafening silences, only heightens the harsh atmosphere.

That tension is compounded by the fact that we continue to behold a loveless relationship fall apart as the couple are forced to examine themselves, their past regrets and the words and behaviour that their now-missing son directly witnessed or inadvertently overheard without them noticing or caring about.

It’s like watching a tragedy occur in steady, austere slow-motion with no light at the end of the tunnel – an easy watch this most certainly isn’t. But it’s also an absorbing and gripping one that tells a universally relatable story – the horror of a child going missing seemingly without a trace or hope of finding them is surely every parent’s worst nightmare – told with compelling specificity and gritty realism in its wintery Russian setting.

Despite using a fairly familiar missing-child plot as its framework, this is ultimately an intense character drama and a shrewd examination of often unlikeable people who invite no sympathy beyond their sudden predicament, too caught up with their self-interest to fulfil their roles as caregivers and protectors. The performances are more than good enough to make us care, subtle little moments popping up throughout that illuminate the characters’ personal truths.

Evoking the work of Michael Haneke, as well Markus Schleinzer’s chilly captivity drama Michael, this piercing and impressively made piece of cinema puts an icy hand on your arm and carries you slowly through a haunting study of societally damaging moral detachment and the innate responsibility of parenthood realised only too late.