Sony Pictures Classics
Director: Andrey Zvyagintsev
Screenwriter: Oleg Negin, Andrey Zvyagintsev
Cast: Maryana Spivak, Alexey Rozin, Matvey Novikov, Marina Vasilyeva, Andrid Keishs, Alexey Fateev
Screened at: Critics’ DVD, NYC, 11/27/17
Opens: February 26, 2017 but December 2017 for one week for awards consideration.
You’re of course familiar with the chorus of Van Morrison’s song that goes “She give me love love love love crazy love/She give me love love love love crazy love.” You are also familiar with The Beatles “All you need is love.” In this cynical age those songs may look sappy and unrealistic, but Andrey Zvyagintsev, whose incredible “Leviathan” finds a family fighting a corrupt mayor intent on demolishing their house, now suggests that there may be something to those songs. He can’t prove it with his latest movie, but he is hell-bent on showing that in the absence love, only tragedy can result.
Bookmarking “Nelyubov” (the original title of this Russian language film with English subtitles) with a wintry, somber landscape that could stand for a land without love, Zvyagintsev hones in on one family not only on the brink of dissolution but actively cursing each other with terms like “Scumbag” and worse as they seek to sell their Moscow-area house and move on to try different partners. As though Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Alexey Rozin) are about to face even more catastrophes while they’re fighting like Edward Albee’s George and Martha in “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf,” their introverted 12-year-old son Alexey (Matvey Novikov) eavesdrops and is not overjoyed to hear them shout that they never wanted the kid (she was afraid to abort) while his mother adds to the dialogue “And I never loved you…I just used you to get out of my mother’s house.”
There’s nothing particularly Russian about dysfunctional families but Oleg Negin, who co-wrote the script after co-penning “Leviathan,” appears to have it in for Russia which comes across as a vast region whose police and bureaucrats haven’t the will or energy to protect the vulnerable but must resort to drafting unpaid volunteers to help each mission. The mission here is to find their boy, who had overheard that at least one parent never wanted him, and runs away from home. A search team based largely on free volunteers combs the area, and in the most dramatic development enters the private home of the boy’s maternal grandmother—whose idea of love is to berate her daughter Zhenya for hitching up with Boris while making sure she know that there’s no way she would think of taking the boy in.
When the dysfunctional couple are not looking for their boy they do not realize that their new boyfriend-girlfriend will not solve the problem but will probably lead shortly down the road to more demoralization if not hatred. Sexual scenes involving Boris and Masha (Marina Vasilyeva) and Zhenya and her rich businessman Anton (Andris Keiss) are prolonged unnecessarily presumably because that’s what the film-maker believes would interest part of his audience.
The only humorous scene takes place in a huge cafeteria where Boris and a colleague joke about their Bible-thumping boss who would fire anyone participating in a divorce. One employee had to hire a family, a woman with her two children, to play wife.
This is quite the film, ambitious and successful in making a family a microcosm to effect a parable about a country that needs more love love love.
Unrated. 127 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Story – B+
Acting – B+
Technical – A-
Overall – B+