Loveless [Nelyubov]

(Russia 2017)

With his 2014 film Leviathan [Leviafan] [Левиафан] (, director Andrey Zvyagintsev presented a glum picture of a city in decline. He continues on that trajectory with Loveless [Nelyubov] [Нелюбовь], a glum picture of a family falling apart.

Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Aleksey Rozin) are in the midst of a nasty divorce. Still winding down their marriage, both have moved on: Zhenya spends nights with her boyfriend (Andris Keišs) and Boris is expecting a baby with his girlfriend (Marina Vasilyeva). The problem of their introverted and sad 12-year-old son, Alexey (Matvey Novikov), their only child, prevents them from turning the page. Neither wants custody, and they bicker over it. Constantly. He hears it all.

One morning when she gets home, Zhenya gets a call from Alexey’s teacher: he hasn’t been to school in two days. No one has seen him. He seems to have vanished. The police aren’t helpful, dismissing the matter as a case of a runaway who will be back in a few days. Frankly, Zhenya and Boris have been absobed by their own affairs and haven’t noticed Alexey much lately. They hire a group of volunteers to trace his steps and find him.

Loveless is an improvement over Leviathan, which was also a good film. Partnering again with Oleg Negin on the screenplay, the pace here is better and the story is a lot more engaging. No love is to be found here, and the adults are why. Shallow and selfish, they’re incapable or maybe just uninterested in seeing how their own toxicity adds to a bad situation. I have the impression that nothing changes at the end of the ordeal.

Spivak’s coldheartedness is chilling, and it’s hard to listen to her admit in one scene that having Alexey was a mistake and she should’ve had an abortion. Her mother (Natalya Potapova) — Alexey’s grandmother — is even worse. Novikov is another standout, bawling quietly behind a bathroom door or letting a tear stream down his cheek as he doesn’t eat his breakfast. Cinematograpger Mikhail Krichman, who gave Leviathan its crisp gloomy grey, does the same here, but somehow makes the whole thing look even bleaker.

With Aleksey Fateev, Sergey Dvoinikov, Artyom Zhigulin, Evgeniya Dmitrieva, Natalia Vinokurova, Djan Badmaev, Yanina Hope, Maksim Stoyanov, Denis Tkachev, Yuriy Mirontsev, Oleg Grisevich, Aleksandr Sergeev, Varvara Shmykova

Production: Non-Stop Productions, Why Not Productions, Fetisoff Illusion, Senator Film Produktion, Les Films du Fleuve, Arte France Cinéma, Eurimages, ARTE France, Canal+, Cine+, Westdeutscher Rundfunk (WDR), Wild Bunch

Distribution: Sony Pictures Classics (USA), Altitude Film Entertainment (UK), Pyramide Distribution (France), Academy Two (Italy), Golem Distribución (Spain), Alpenrepublik Filmverleih (Germany), Wild Bunch (Germany), Cinemien (Netherlands), Seven Films (Greece), Against Gravity (Poland), Albatros Film (Japan), The Klockworx (Japan), Star Channel Movies (Japan)

127 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) B

Things to Come [L’avenir]

(France/Germany 2016)

“My life isn’t over. Deep down, I was prepared. I’m lucky to be fulfilled intellectually.”


A line from Talking Heads’ song “Once in a Lifetime” is apt to describe the root of the dramatic tension in Mia Hansen-Løve’s latest film: “Well, how did I get here?” Things to Come is a character study of Nathalie Chazeaux (Isabelle Huppert), a philosophy professor at an unnamed Paris university, as she navigates and reinvents her place in the world after her bourgeois examined life suddenly transforms into something else and leaves her floundering in the process.

Nathalie’s passion for her work is clear beyond her career: her husband of 25 years, Heinz (André Marcon), is also a philosophy professor; the textbook she wrote is something of a standard; and her apartment is crammed with books. Even her everyday conversation is peppered with references to philosophers, some I know and other I have never heard of. Her two adult children can follow her when she goes on about, oh, say, Plato, as she sets the table. She seems like someone who has always relied on intellect and reason.

The protesters blocking access to campus early in the film hint to something amiss; Nathalie participated in her share of protests back in the day, but this is different. Selfish, perhaps? One day, Heinz announces that he’s leaving her for another woman. “I thought you would love me forever,” Nathalie responds in a way that reads more like examining a problem than expressing surprise or hurt. Soon, her needy mother (Edith Scob) takes a turn for the worst, leaving Nathalie to figure out what to do with the cat. Meanwhile, her publisher informs her that her textbook’s future is uncertain. Then there’s the matter of her reunion with a former student, Fabien (Roman Kolinka), a cute and promising writer living in an anarchists’ commune.

Things to Come is very much about change, both in circumstances and relationships. Hansen-Løve takes a decidedly distant approach, letting us watch things unfold from afar. She’s not detached; she just seems more interested in showing the small events that shape Nathalie’s journey and letting us figure out the big picture. It works really well. Choosing “Unchained Melody” for the background in the final scene is especially clever; it’s clear about where Nathalie is on an emotional level, yet it’s open to interpretation about whether the future holds good things for her. It’s a happy, hopeful ending if you want it to be.

With Sarah Le Picard, Solal Forte, Guy-Patrick Sainderichin, Rachel Arditi, Yves Heck

Production: Arte France Cinéma, CG Cinéma, Detail Film, Rhône-Alpes Cinéma

Distribution: Les Films du Losange, Palace Films

102 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Gene Siskel Film Center) B

The Salesman [Forušande]

(Iran 2016)

Asghar Farhadi’s The Salesman [Forušande] [فروشنده] is a marvelously dark and brooding study of a married couple that shifts smoothly from a domestic crisis drama to a revenge flick. His approach is a lot more subtle than one an American director might take, but this is precisely what makes The Salesman so satisfying.

While working out the finishing touches of a production of Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman in which they play the Lomans, community actors Emad (Shahab Hosseini) and Rana (Taraneh Alidoosti) are forced out of their apartment just days before the play opens when a construction mishap next door weakens the building’s foundation. The cracks in the walls become a metaphor for what’s about to happen to their relatively peaceful marriage.

A fellow cast member, Babak (Babak Karimi), sets them up in temporary digs, a recently and hastily vacated apartment that still contains the previous tenant’s belongings: furniture, bedding, dresses, tons of high heel shoes, a kid’s bike. One night when she’s home alone, a stranger attacks Rana in the shower. She can’t identify him, and she doesn’t want to go to the police. She won’t even say exactly what happened.

Rana starts to go off the deep end; the more unsafe she feels, the less secure Emad is in his own ego. He stews as he pieces together what might have transpired. A set of keys and a delivery truck parked on the street seems like a promising lead to tracking down the stranger, which becomes something of an obsession for Emad.

Farhadi has a straightforward, minimal style. Although he draws a few parallels to Death of a Salesman, he doesn’t beat us over the head with them. He does a nice job dropping us into the story and letting us figure out what he’s getting at. He has a lot to say about male aggression, turning the tables from Rana as the victim to Emad—his masculinity takes a beating as the film progresses.

With Farid Sajadhosseini, Mina Sadati, Mojtaba Pirzadeh

Production: Memento Films Production, Asghar Farhadi Production, Arte France Cinéma

Distribution: Amazon Studios (USA), Cohen Media Group (USA), Filmiran (Iran), Memento Films Distribution (France)

125 minutes
Rated PG-13

(Regal Webster Place) B+