The premise offers up pathos on a Little Match Girl scale.

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This article was published 25/5/2018 (1166 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The premise offers up pathos on a Little Match Girl scale.

Lonely, isolated 12-year-old Alyosha (Matvey Novikov) has come to a horrifying realization that, in the demise of his Muscovite parents' marriage, his mother Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and his father, Boris (Aleksey Rozin) are engaged in the worst kind of custody battle.

Neither parent wants him.

It's not his fault. Both parents seem to view him as a symptom of the disease that infected their marriage. Both are intent moving on to new partners, and if that means exiling him to a boarding school/army future, so be it.

Boris, it emerges, has impregnated the younger, naive Masha (Marina Vasilyeva) and sees their life together as a do-over.

Zhenya has herself taken up with an older man, Anton (Andris Keiss) whose own grown daughter is safely out of the picture, so she looks forward to a luxurious and childless existence.

What's a boy to do?

Well, he can disappear.

Mongrel Media</p><p>Matvey Novikov in Loveless</p>

Mongrel Media

Matvey Novikov in Loveless

And so Alyosha vanishes mysteriously. And in keeping with the emotional removal of his parents, it's two days before his mother even notices he's missing, thanks to a phone call from his school telling her he's been absent through two days of classes.

We've already seen Boris making discreet inquiries as to how a divorce might affect his career in an organization in which his Christian boss demands strict adherence to monogamous morals. A missing child, we can infer, will be a serious blot on his performance review.

And so it goes in this bleak yet weirdly captivating drama by Russian director Andrey Zvyagintsev, whose film Leviathan likewise framed a human story as an indictment of national Russian malaise, writ in microcosm.

No thriller, Zvyagintsev's film moves at a stately pace as we bear witness to the personal dynamics that steers these characters to tragedy. Title notwithstanding, people do make love in this movie. Both Zhenya and Boris have fairly graphic sex scenes suggesting both are more attentive to sexual gratification than they are to its byproduct.

Zvyagintsev gives up a significant clue as to Zhenya's hostile character when she and Boris are obliged to visit Zhenya's monstrous mother (Natalya Potapova), whom Boris describes as "Stalin in skirts," but who more closely resembles the Slavic sorceress Baba Yaga on a bad day.

Beyond that, Zvyagintsev imbues the film with symptoms of a larger issue of widespread narcsicism; Zhenya and Boris are seen looking at their phones more devotedly than they ever might glance at their son.

It's a quiet condemnation of neglect by self-absorbed people. But at the risk of being a little too on-the-nose, Zvyagintsev suggests in the film's final few minutes that this de-humanizing condition has led to the wider abuses of Vladimir Putin's ruthless regime.

Given the current political climate, the story has undeniable resonance on this hemisphere too. Indeed, this is one of the rare foreign-language films wherein an American remake would be wholly justified.

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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