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

Call Me by Your Name

(Italy / USA / France / Brazil 2017)

“Call me by your name and I’ll call you by mine.”

— Oliver

Very seldom does a film leaves me speechless, but that’s just what Call Me by Your Name did. For me, it’s one of this year’s most unexpected cinematic pleasures.

Set during the summer of 1983, precocious and solitary 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet) is spending another summer with his parents at their Italian villa. It looks like business as usual — reading, writing, and playing piano — until ruggedly handsome and tan American graduate student Oliver (Armie Hammer) shows up. Oliver, with his penchant for being overly casual (particularly with his use of “later” to bid farewell) and his love of the Psychedelic Furs, will be staying in Elio’s room for the summer while working as an intern for Elio’s father (Michael Stuhlbarg), a professor who’s finishing up a book.

Wow. Director Luca Guadagnino hits the nail right on the head on so many things he gets at here: the perversity of male adolescence, the confusion of sexual awakening and lost innocence, the single-mindedness of desire, the thrill and frustration of seduction, and the agony of loss, all of it before a gorgeous and sunny Italian backdrop. He’s sensitive to the subject matter, which centers on sexuality, but he doesn’t cheapen the story or its characters. It’s a tricky feat.

The pace may be frustrating at times. However, being an act of seduction itself, Call Me by Your Name is nonetheless erotic, intimate, honest, and ultimately heartbreaking. That’s an awful lot to fit into one film, but Guadagnino does it, and he does it exceptionally well. It helps that he recruits excellent actors, particularly Chalamet, who brings a credible vulnerability to his character. The final scene is beautifully simple, effective, and hard to watch even while the credits roll.

I had a remarkably similar experience as Elio when I was barely 18 years old. Call Me by Your Name is more romantic, but seeing it play out reminded me of someone from my own past. I never go back and read a book after seeing its film adaptation, but I’m compelled to read André Aciman’s novel now.

With Amira Casar, Esther Garrel, Victoire Du Bois, Vanda Capriolo, Antonio Rimoldi, Elena Bucci, Marco Sgrosso, André Aciman, Peter Spears

Production: Frenesy Film Company, La Cinéfacture, RT Features, Water’s End Productions

Distribution: Sony Pictures Classics

132 minutes
Rated R

(Landmark Century) A-

Toni Erdmann

(Germany/Austria 2016)

Toni Erdmann is not a real person; he’s the alterego of retired divorced schoolteacher Winfried Conradi (Peter Simonischek). When Winfried, a weird old hippy jokester, appears onscreen in a shaggy wig and bad fake teeth, he certainly gives the impression that those around him have to excuse his relatively harmless but tiresome—and often annoying—penchant for silliness. He is caretaker of his elderly mother, and death surrounds him. Perhaps that explains it.

Winfried’s daughter, Ines (Sandra Hüller), a young corporate sellout working on a project in Romania, drops by for a birthday. She’s on her phone most of the time, distracted by work. She’s so serious—and severe. Predictably, she doesn’t stick around long.

When his dog dies, Winfried flies to Bucharest and stalks Ines in the lobby of the office building where she works. She sees him and takes him to a reception, where she networks with Henneberg (Michael Wittenborn), an oil company executive she wants to make a deal with. The weekend is bizarre, filled with small talk, blank stares, and uncomfortable silence. Ines doesn’t bother to pretend she’s happy to see her father; in fact, it’s pretty clear she’s relieved to see him leave.

This is where Toni Erdmann gets interesting: Winfried doesn’t actually leave. Instead, he becomes “Toni Erdmann, life coach,” and sets out to reach Ines through her professional contacts. Funny thing: it actually works.

Writer/director Maren Ade has a solid grasp of strained relationships and embarrassing situations, and a sick sense of humor to boot. It’s a winning combination in Toni Erdmann, which has its share of quite a few awesomely cringeworthy moments. Your goofy dad upstaging you at a networking opportunity? Check. Naked birthday party—with coworkers? Check. An Easter party that includes an apoplectic performance of Whitney Houston’s “Greatest Love of All”? Check. A cum-soaked petit fours? Um, check.

For all its distance, Toni Erdmann turns out to be a surprisingly emotional film. It takes nearly three hours to get to it, but it ends on a whallop. It’s touching in a way I didn’t see coming. The final scene offers all anyone needs to see about this dysfunctional father/daughter relationship. And it’s beautiful.

With Ingrid Bisu, Lucy Russell, Thomas Loibl, Trystan Pütter, Hadewych Minis, Vlad Ivanov, Victoria Cocias

Production: Komplizen Film, coop99 filmproduktion, KNM, Missing Link Films, SWR/WDR/Arte

Distribution: NFP Marketing & Distribution (Germany), Soda Pictures (United Kingdom), Enfilade (Austria), Sony Pictures Classics (USA)

162 minutes
Rated R

(Music Box) B-