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

Center of My World [Die Mitte der Welt]

(Germany 2016)

Center of My World, director/screenwriter Jakob M. Erwa’s adaptation of German author Andreas Steinhöfel’s 1998 novel for young adults, is not a home run. Fortunately, though, Erwa knows how to extract enough charm, particularly from its two main actors, to downplay its shortcomings and proffer a respectable and enjoyable film.

17-year-old Phil (Louis Hofmann) lives with his mercurial, flighty mother, Glass (Sabine Timoteo), and his twin sister, Dianne (Ada Philine Stappenbeck), in a gorgeous house on the outskirts of town. This family isn’t exactly The Brady Bunch: Phil is gay, Dianne supposedly communicates with animals, and Glass can’t commit to a partner for very long. She won’t even tell her kids who their father is.

Phil notices some friction between the women of the house after he returns from summer camp. When school starts, his best friend, Kat (Svenja Jung), encourages him to go after mysterious new guy Nicholas (Jannik Schümann), a dreamy transfer student who looks like a cuter blue-eyed version of Lance Bass with his chiseled cheeks, luscious lips, and perfect hair. Supposedly, he likes boys. Phil finds out for sure in the locker room one afternoon—and it leads to a passionate affair, insecurity, and a weird bout of jealous competition with Kat.

Center of My World is a cute and engaging story. Erwa does a nice job showing how any kid, gay or otherwise, has a lot to deal with when it comes to sexuality. The Chaun Ngo’s cinematography is well done, employing a bright color pallette verging on artificial that plays really well against the small town setting with all its gardens and summer greenery. The acting is generally good. Schümann is really easy to just…gaze upon, I guess, but in a harmless Teen Beat way.

All that said, Center of My World would have been a much gutsier film, say, 15 years ago. It probably would have made a bigger impact then, too. It contains hints and echoes of things I’ve seen before. The characters are a bit hollow; some of them come off as half-baked, rendering their importance to the story tenuous or questionable. These two boys have sex a lot, which is great. However, the sex scenes here need work even with the full frontal we get. More in-your-face than sexy, they come off as gratuitous. I don’t know if Erwa was trying to be shocking, but it didn’t work if he was. It’s like watching two puppies go at it. I hope that’s not the intended result.

With Inka Friedrich, Sascha Alexander Geršak, Thomas Goritzki, Nina Proll, Clemens Rehbein

Production: Neue Schönhauser Filmproduktion, Prisma Film, Universum Film, mojo:pictures, Westdeutscher Rundfunk, Bayerischer Rundfunk, ARTE, Österreichischer Rundfunk

Distribution: Constantin-Film, Universum Film

115 minutes
Not rated

(Tower City Cinemas) B-

Cleveland International Film Festival