From writer/director Julia Loktev, The Loneliest Planet is a slow burning examination of personal relationships and the incredible fragility of the trust that holds them together. It is an exercise in disintegration.
One moment, lasting only a few seconds, is all that it takes to breakthrough all the assumed pretensions underpinning these ties. The promotional material for this film explicitly asks for no one to reveal the details of this climatic episode and while I will refrain from giving anything away here, I certainly gasped when ‘the moment’ occurred.
At the centre of the frame is Nica (Hani Furstenberg) and Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal), a soon to be married couple on a seemingly idyllic backpacking trip through rural Georgia. After facilitating the help of a local guide Dato (Georgian actor Bidzina Gujabidze), Nica and Alex set off into the wilderness of the Caucasus Mountains. A decent portion of the film is conducted in the local dialect with no subtitles while the rest predominately has very little dialogue at all. We are left to delineate the couple’s relationship through the implied looks, touches and body language.
Loktev takes a very minimalist approach to the mise-en-scene and the scenery provides an often stunning but increasingly dreary backdrop. While occasionally stunning, the backdrop is by no means utilized as a focal point for our viewing pleasure. Instead, it serves as a strange non-space in which we are forced to examine the character’s interactions. It’s a void in which there appears to be no defined sense of beginning or even an end. Loktev employs long wordless shots of the characters meandering from one edge of the frame to the other often backed by the sound of shrill violins hissing no discernible tune.
This minimalist canvas forces the viewer to project their own thoughts and experiences on to the screen. However this is a long film, clocking in at nearly two hours. While it’s relatively easy to discern the artistic merits of many of the shots, too many scenes felt inserted for the sole reason of being long, particularly in the second half after ‘the incident’ serves as more or less the only moment of drama.
The performances on display are fantastic. Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg are terrific and the subtleties displayed in their interactions are pitched perfect. Bidzina Gujabidze, while underutilized, is fantastic when finally given a chance to come to the fore.
Loktev’s style is reminiscent of the Canadian filmmaker Atom Ergoyan and similarly to the problems that plague his work, The Loneliest Planet struggles to deliver a coherent emotional resonance. While I was generally impressed with the minimalist approach taken by Loktev in her storytelling I left the cinema no closer to knowing what the point of the whole thing was. Nica and Alex neither feel like they’re trapped in some kind of purgatory or whether the events occurring will have any lasting effects to their characters or relationship.
It’s by no means a film which you would classify as an enjoyable experience, but is a provocative piece of art. The entirety of my trip home was consumed with discussion, probably involving more words than encased in the entirety of this film.
I further recommend checking out Caitlin McGrane’s The Loneliest Planet review over at You’re Dripping Egg