' Cinema Romantico: The Loneliest Planet

Monday, April 08, 2013

The Loneliest Planet

"Travel, like much else in life, can be more fun to read about than to do. When I'm reading a travel book and the protagonist sets out on a journey and the harbor lights drop behind, I imagine enviously what a grand feeling that must have been. In actual travel situations, however, I've noticed that moments of soaring consciousness are rare." - Ian Frazier, "Travels In Siberia" 

Running seven minutes shy of two hours, “The Loneliest Planet”, written and directed by Julia Loktev, is unafraid to evoke the previous sentences of noted travel author Frazier. It is a film set in the scenic back country of Georgia, the former Soviet republic and now its own country in eastern Europe, and while her camera routinely lingers on sweeping mountainous vistas it also takes time - often a lot of time (too much time?) – to simply present our principal trio trudging across rock, heads down, tired and uninterested. You might find yourself looking at the clock but, rest assured, you will get the point.


"The Loneliest Planet" centers around a young couple, Nica (Hani Furstenberg) and Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal), on some sort of backpackers holiday in Georgia. Reading a synopsis or two post-film I realize Nica and Alex were meant to be portrayed as "engaged" but I struggle to recall when this information was actually presented in the film. No doubt it was and I missed it but that is part of the movie's charm - uh, if charm is actually the right word.

Loktev's script is stingy with the details. Little background info is revealed. No real reason is established for Nica and Alex's desire to be in Georgia except that as the film plays itself out in long takes and unhurried rhythms we sense that they are routinely lighting out for trips deep into the heart of foreign countries. They hire a local guide named Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze) to take them on a hiking excursion into the mountains. All three speak English but Dato's is very rough and so the film is often a confusing mishmash of English jumbles, Dato's un-subtitled Georgian and even the Spanish that Alex is trying to teach Nico. It leaves us confused but then that is Loktev's desired effect. The audience is taking a journey into a place they do not know with people they cannot understand. It is at once frustrating and enthralling, perhaps leaning a more toward the former.

To be sure, "The Loneliest Planet" is not merely a lifelike creation of the vacation from hell. It is also going for something acutely psychological, hinted at in early passages - such as Nica and Alex's night out at a club where a drunk local asks her to dance. She accepts. Is Alex upset? It is difficult to tell, partially because we have a hard time reading Alex and partially because the way Loktev frames and lights makes it difficult for us to read Alex. Eventually the camera finds the couple cuddled close on the dance floor as the local boogies to and fro, right up to Nica before backing away, and we sense things might explode. They do not.

Later, they do. It is a moment of sudden drama painstakingly built to and so it will not be revealed, but suffice it to say that in a flash we and Nica receive a glimpse into Alex's character that is destructively honest. Really? Was that really his first thought? Apparently, and so the remainder of the film, the long slog back the way they have come, is a slow burn as we watch these would-be newlyweds retreat within themselves.

Their unease is then drawn out as they fail for the remainder of the film to truly confront it, leaving us without a real resolution – dramatic, pat, or otherwise. It just sort of……ends. We wonder, what do they think about all this? We wonder, did they ever really know what they thought about any of it?

2 comments:

Mette said...

I had considered watching this movie when it played at a local theatre but then missed out on it. Not sure whether I regret...

Nick Prigge said...

Yeah, it's a very specific sort of movie and if you're not in the right mood it might be tough to get into.

Heck, even if you ARE in the right mood it might be tough to get into.