(IFC Films) It’s no new discovery that people seek clarity in their relationships. We like to know where we stand with one another in good times and bad. For this to happen the way we imagine, communication is paramount. However, the cruelest detail of human development may be that so many of us close ourselves off in times of struggle, allowing affairs once of the utmost importance to disintegrate like they never had a chance at all.
New York writer-director Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet is a mesmerizing tale of the fallout when human instinct supersedes the long-sculpted character we play in life. Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg) are the young, adventurous, and soon-to-be wed couple who impulsively decide to go on a backpacking trip through the Caucasus Mountains in the Republic of Georgia, the summer before their wedding. They procure the services of the puzzling Georgian guide Dato (real life mountaineer Bidzina Gujabidze) and begin their expedition, too hypnotized by love to pay mind to the normally frightening circumstances of the unknown.
Instilled early on, Alex and Nica are the type of connected characters you root for in a film. Their shameless affection for one another is delicately portrayed by Bernal and Furstenberg in every elongated glance and reassuring smile. Their real love best resonates through a quiet, but confident exchange when a Georgian local asks Nica to dance at a pedestrian nightclub. It is tangible moments of poise and mutual assuredness that best convey true romance in our fictional worlds.
Through the opening act that is often free of dialogue, the couple’s ever-lasting support and barefaced codependence is the detail most emphasized for recognition. Then, in a single fleeting moment, one character’s arguably unconscious misstep crumbles a foundation that was indisputably secure only moments before. This incident shifts the structure of the story being told into one of guilt, resentment, and man’s failure to communicate in strenuous times.
Loktev generates an alienating energy in her second feature with wide shots of the Georgian countryside, painting an impending sense of doom as her characters, deep in the background, are engulfed by rolling hills and fast-moving rivers, reminding us just how insignificant we are when pitted against the world that we so desire to control. Many scenes have a strong sense of conscious precision and moment-to-moment strategy, where the thought process behind the logical next step in unfamiliar territory becomes a symbolic beacon of the perpetual uncertainty in our lives. Combined with the fact that so much of the film focuses on body language and the physical proximity between characters, The Loneliest Planet is an iceberg, refusing to reveal more than it has to, allowing the viewer to illustrate the current state of things on their own.
The Loneliest Planet should be recognized for its patience. It is in no rush to progress to the next bullet point moment of the story or pander to the audience with gratuitous exposition or foreshadowing. It reveals itself in courses, and lets each long and uninterrupted moment simmer before it breaks off another piece for its hungry audience. Loktev’s eye must be commended for taking one breath-taking setting and effectively using it to enhance both feelings of romance and malcontent as we walk slowly with the characters, striving to belong. Always to ourselves, but more importantly to each other.
For Fans of: Day Night Day Night, The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber, Expensive Trips Nowhere
Why We Like It: Long-form study of emotion, awe-inspiring cinematography, the intrinsic battle of human spirit over festering guilt