Director and co-writer Andrey Zvyagintsev fixes his unblinking, pitiless eye on the way that, in the words of the film’s miserable wife (who is also, what do you know, a miserable daughter and miserable mother), “love and happiness lead to pain and disappointment…a miserable heap of shit.” The heap in question is a marriage, and the family that resulted from it. Mom and Dad have both found new love elsewhere, and their heartbroken son cannot help but serve as a painful reminder of their abysmal failure. Naturally, neither one wants him around, but they don’t expect him to be so obliging about it as to disappear. As in Zvyagintsev’s previous feature, Leviathan, the Russian Church has been reduced to a whited sepulcher (in this case, a corporate policy against divorce) and the State has no time for humanity. (There are rebellions to crush!) But he is here bold enough to introduce a note of hope in the form of a volunteer network that takes up the search for “the squirt.” Its members are as unsentimental as the director himself, but they also seem to share his sense of moral urgency in the midst of disaster. Everything here — from the image to the dialogue to the landscape to the film’s vision and judgment — is clean, cold, and bracing. (2017) — Matthew Lickona
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