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The Loneliest Planet

2011 | 113 min | R | 1.85:1

The Loneliest Planet


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Theatrical release date

 02 November, 2012

Country of origin

 United States



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The Loneliest Planet Preview  

 / 10
Preview by Brian Orndorf, November 1, 2012

Julia Loktev’s “The Loneliest Planet” continues the traditional of observational cinema revived over the last decade by Gus Van Sant, who experimented with screen stillness and improvisational dialogue in pictures such as “Gerry” and “Elephant.” “The Loneliest Planet” elects a travelogue route for its inspection of common behaviors and emotional wounds, trekking across the wilds of Georgia to soak up the natural beauty of the land as the characters work out some intense personal issues. It’s 110 minutes of hiking, subtitle-free conversations, and extended shots of stars Hani Furstenberg and Gael Garcia Bernal looking bored and concerned. For some, the interpretational opportunities of the production will be salivatory. For others, the relentless indulgence of the piece will feel like a trip where no one bothered to pack a map.

With plans to be married in the winter, couple Nica (Hani Furstenberg) and Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) have decided to continue their backpacking adventure across the world, working their way to Georgia for a scenic hike through the Caucasus Mountains. Playful and protective of each other, the couple hires guide Dato (an unintelligible Bidzina Gujabidze) to help manage the path, with the trio crossing dangerous territory through difficult atmospheric changes. While on their journey, a chance meeting with a troubled local triggers a natural reaction of self-preservation from Alex, putting Nica in front of a gun for a split-second before he corrects his mistake. Shattered by the lack of protection, Nica initiates the silent treatment on Alex, bonding with Dato as the two buddy up. As the days pass and the tour continues, a few more instances of personal violation arise, turning the travelers into strangers while traversing across the middle of nowhere.

Surprisingly, “The Loneliest Planet” is based on two short stories by Tom Bissell, though the extent of the author’s influence is unclear. Loktev doesn’t reveal much interest in dramatic matters with the feature, lightly sketching out characters while treating the conflicts of the story as an afterthought. “The Loneliest Planet” isn’t about people, it’s about the experience of watching people, with precious screen minutes devoted to real-time hiking and deflections of boredom, studying Nica, Alex, and Dato as they move along the Georgian wilderness, with its stunning geography and moderate survival challenges. It’s art-house cinema in its purest form, asking viewers to get involved in mundane activities, with hope that this saturation of tranquility is going to lead somewhere profound. Alas, Loktev doesn’t push her screenplay in any discernible direction.

The picture is marked by three acts of violation, all occurring after 45 minutes of Nica and Alex navigating a series of villages, interacting with locals while Loktev refuses the invitation of subtitles, maintaining the viewer’s alien status with a creative choice that grows frustrating as the film unfolds. The primary breach is the human shield blunder, where Alex instinctively uses Nica to protect himself when a rifle is pulled on the couple. It’s a fantastic moment expertly performed by Garcia, who registers human impulse and the burden of masculine duty in a nanosecond, bringing the moment to life. However, once the scene is over, “The Loneliest Planet” returns to the long walk, only this time there’s discomfort in the air as the couple refuses communication despite a situation worth conversing about. Loktev doesn’t escalate the matter in the least, depending on long shots of internal processing to fuel the feature further. Additional fissures in the foundation of the couple are more conventional in design, and treated with equal disinterest in dramatic resolution.

What works wonderfully is “The Loneliest Planet” is the Georgian location, with creeks, prairies, and mountain areas creating a sublime feeling of location. Loktev devotes an enormous portion of the picture to static shots of the characters crossing the terrain, leaving plenty of time to study the frame and enjoy nature in motion. In fact, there’s no need for these formless characters with a landscape of true personality and mystery.

With its impenetrable conversations, fumbled passes at interpretational behaviors, and surprisingly predictable finale (Loktev really drops the ball here), “The Loneliest Planet” is in desperate need of a tighter edit and a pronounced human touch. Its intentional paralysis is unrewarding and, by the second half, completely insufferable.

Starring: Gael García Bernal, Hani Furstenberg, Bidzina Gujabidze
Director: Julia Loktev

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