The title of the film is a signpost as Andrey Zvyagintsev (Leviathan) puts the viewer through the emotional ringer of a marital breakup, a vanishing and social disintegration.

The basics of the story are simple: Zhenya (Maryana Spivak) and Boris (Alexey Rozin) are a couple that could never work but Zhenya fell pregnant and they married. This soon started to crumble and they are now locked in a vicious divorce with their son Alyosha (Matvey Novikov) in the midst. Both are keen to move on - neither really wanting to take responsibility for the boy. Zhenya, in a new relationship, constantly on her mobile, and has little time for her son. At one point she berates him for doing his homework, in his room, while she is showing potential buyers around the former martial home.

Boris’s girlfriend is pregnant and he appears to want to just cut this whole section of his life away. During a visit to see Alyosha, Boris and Zhenya have a particular nasty exchange which is overheard by their son, after which he disappears.

What follows is an intense search: firstly for him, and secondly for the couple, who are looking within themselves for some sort of explanation. This proves virtually impossible as their enmity is never far from the surface. Their selfishness blisters out when they start arguing while being interviewed about the disappearance, to the exasperation of the volunteers’ leader.

In fact, there is no love anywhere in the family. In a desperate attempt to find Alyosha they go to see Zhenya’s mother, thinking he may have gone there. Mother and daughter have been estranged and this visit ends in another visceral confrontation of the sort only families manage.

The police take little interest basically saying they are doing them favour even taking the details of the case. The police suggest going to a voluntary organisation that has expertise in the area of missing people, have a network and can organise searches.

It is through the volunteers’ coordinator (Alexey Fateev) that there is a chink of optimism, compassion and altruism. He takes a pragmatic approach to the operation rather than a bleeding heart but it’s a glimpse of what was, and could be again.

Zyagintsev’s film is beautiful; a pristine contemplation of a brutal modern Russia, with Evgueni and Sacha Galperine’s sparse magnificent soundtrack in perfect harmony with the images and moods. With a backdrop of snow, cold sterile tower blocks and abandoned buildings, Loveless is potent in its depiction of a withering society ravaged by selfishness and self-interest.

The two central performances from Spivak and Rozin are towering as they try to get to grips with the situation of the disappearance and their other lives. There’s the feeling that they may still have something but whether it is genuine collective guilt, or just going through the motions, is slightly ambiguous. They, and Zyagintsev, are pitiless as the flaws of their characters and society are peeled back until they are raw.

Time will tell if Loveless is truly a masterpiece but it is most certainly one of the films of the year, no question about that.