Film directed by Andrey Zviagintsev
Loveless is a poignant human interest drama that uses as its stage the collapse of a marriage in which the only real victim is the innocent son, Alyosha.
It's a contemporary story about ordinary people living in the modern world. The main characters are Zhenya and Boris Sleptsov and their son Alyosha. The tale is one of dissolution and separate rebirth. Beginning in the shared family apartment, the movie proceeds to track how the characters develop different lives independent from one another. This theme informed all our design choices. We aimed to create separate and discernible realities for each of the characters as they drifted apart from one another and their previous unity as a family. The spaces, the images, and the colors were all selected to help create portraits of people reflected in their unique new environments. It was important to convey the sense of loneliness felt by each of the protagonists, and this was all most eloquently done by creating living spaces that reflected the personalities and idiosyncrasies of each of the main characters.
Interior decor and domestic living spaces describe and reflect human personalities like nothing else does and so are a perfect way to describe our characters' personalities. Here, everything is important - the complexity or simplicity of the spaces; colors, history, textures, and materials all speak to the interests and the ages of the inhabitants. The interiors help to instantly create meaningful and visually understandable portraits of the characters. To that end, we decided to build all the living interiors in a studio. Three sets were constructed: the Sleptsov family apartment, Boris's new apartment, and Zhenya's new flat.
The Sleptsov family are typical Moscovites. They live in what is known as "a dormitory suburb", areas characterized by high-rise, high-density residential architecture. The vast majority of people living in every big city in Russia live in such environments. For the movie maker, creating an authentic representation of ordinary lives lived in this context is very difficult because one has to show the completely mundane and expected at the same time as differentiating the lives and characters of the people being depicted from what is usual. The block in which they live is just like thousands, even tens of thousands of others throughout Russia, but we were able to differentiate this residence from all the others using one unique element. That was the Skhodnensky lowland, a wild natural reserve featuring woods, swamps, and the river, which is visible from the Steptsov's apartment. The reserve itself is about 2 km in diameter and the Sleptsov family residence is located on the edge of a plateau formed over time by the river. The lowland exists as a natural scene separating the distant high-rise apartments and smoking factories from the family apartment.
By placing our family there, we isolate them, making them look more naked. The theme of loneliness is enhanced by the radio space telescope which is located nearby. Its presence is somehow unsettling and gives rise to alarm and reflection upon the existence of other worlds, at the same time as expectation, a sense of seeking, and of hope. The Sleptsov family obviously belongs to the middle class. It was imperative that they not be poor, as there could be no excuses for them abandoning their son. That decision was driven entirely by egotism and the longing for a better life.
The design of the apartment was informed by the requirements of one particular shot, one of the crucial moments in the film. In this shot, we are looking down the corridor into the kitchen where Zhenya and Boris are arguing, heatedly discussing their impending divorce and the future of their son. The door to the kitchen is open, and as it closes, it reveals Alyosha who is silently crying as he listens to his parents talking about their separation and the possibility of him being sent to an orphanage. This shot was specially planned to visually demonstrate how the family literally splits into pieces, and therefore the space demanded a cross shape giving each person a separate direction in which to go. The rooms are immediately recognizable as belonging to one or another of the family. Zhenya's room, for example, features a whole wall mirror that hides a closet.
The apartment itself, according to our thinking, had been renovated about eight years previously. Along with more modern furniture and decor, we also see some furniture that had survived since the Soviet period. The boy's room is cluttered with games, posters, and toys, with a climbing and fitness apparatus in the middle of the room. The apartment is aligned with the lowland horizon, as described above, allowing us to instantly recognize the place, with that magnificent characteristic panorama visible through every window.
In order to make the sets believable we paid a great deal of attention to the depth of the shots. In all the interiors special note was taken of windows and backgrounds. We were able to depict the changing of the seasons, the time of day, and different light conditions. So, we could really create the impression of passing time and different circumstances. For each set, we used between three and five different backgrounds. To make the views more convincing we needed to have enough space and sky as well as the ability to imitate different types of sunlight. To do this we needed to place backgrounds at a distance of no more than ten meter. And to avoid seeing the studio floor in the shots, we had to raise the sets to a height of at least three meters. This meant that to shoot a medium-sized apartment, we occupied studio space of more than 2000 square meters.
Although Zhenya Sleptsova is still a young and desirable woman, she feels her biological clock ticking. She feels trapped in the mundanity of her relationship and is driven to divorce by her thirst for a better and more exciting life. She decides, therefore, to seek and find a spouse with better prospects. Her selected beloved is a real treasure of a man. He is wealthy, has good taste, and is endowed with all the possible virtues. The new life she starts seems to be picture-perfect. His modern apartment is fresh and minimalist, featuring floor-to-ceiling windows which frame the surrounding oak forest. The overall impression is one of peace and harmony. Zhenya's character is painted in lilac, a color representing a blossoming flower. We see it in varying degrees in all the spaces she occupies - in the bedroom of the apartment, in the hairdresser's salon where she works, and in the apartment of her new lover.
Anton, her new husband, is the epitome of distinction, like the noble oaks that surround the apartment. His world is transparent and pure. The set for the apartment was created from scratch and was built to harmonize with the surrounding environment in a humanistic way, it is logical and convenient. It is the realized dream of independence and harmony.
Four sets of backgrounds were created for it - day and dusk, for both autumn and two states of light for winter.
Anton apartment set sketch.
Whereas Zhenya is painted in lilac, her ex-husband, Alyosha's father Boris, is painted in combinations of red, brown, and green. His new companion, Masha, is a young girl only recently flown from the familial nest. She is pregnant with Boris' child. Their apartment is poor and full of stuff left behind by the former owners, but now irrelevant and out of place in the new context. Nonetheless, Masha's love fills the home with warmth. The apartment illustrates the old truism "for lovers, even a shack is heaven". It is located in the northern suburb of Chertanovo, yet another rabbit warren in a system with thousands of similar others. The idea is that happiness doesn't require wealth. For Boris, the divorce is a protest, a search for an easier and more fulfilling life with a young wife who is not as demanding as Zhenya. Under the facade, however, he conceals his hopelessness and inability to achieve anything meaningful. We chose the Chertanovo district for its environment, and we built the set for three states of light and season.