There is a split second event, a single act that happens in the blink of an eye, that changes the whole dynamic of The Loneliest Planet. This moment is representative of the film as a whole: gorgeous to look at, but slow and maundering, if the gorgeous landscapes of the Caucasus Mountains doesn’t get you, the thoughtful, even powerful subtext will.
Written and directed by Julia Loktev from a short story by Tom Bissel, The Loneliest Planet struggles to reach feature length with the material. Following soon-to-be-married couple Alex (Gael García Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg) on a pre-wedding backpacking trip through the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia, Loktev relies heavily on long, wondering shots within the beautiful landcapes to lengthen the film. This does grow rather tiresome, with little dialogue to be found in stretches, yet the film maintains something off-putting and chilling about the setting which manages to keep focus.
With the help of local guide Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze), the couple journey deep into the wilderness with nothing but each other and the elements for company. Director of Photography Inti Briones works wonders with the Georgian landscape, as the film often acts as a nature documentary during the film’s long stretches of silence. All three characters are likable and Dato has personality to spare, which Loktev relies on perhaps one too many times. These performances and characters are truly human, as their stories and conversation are both interesting and honest, and when the previously mentioned event occurs, the relationships between these three characters grows even more interesting.
While it’s a bit of a struggle to get to, the subtext of this event and really The Loneliest Planet as a whole is wonderful. While you may grow weary during, the haunting realizations these characters succumb to are staggering in retrospect. Loktev illustrates these subtexts with a quiet, yet jarring command, and the three characters buy into it fully.
While it definitely is not for everyone, The Loneliest Planet works marvelously for what it is. There is a quiet sense of power, sadness, and an eerie dread at play throughout the overly long running time. The filmmakers are asking a lot of the audience to sit through it, but the reward is an audacious, powerful film that is well worth the attention required. While it often is an exercise in patience, Loktev maintains an eerie tension to the proceedings that stays long after the credits roll.
The Loneliest Planet opens in limited release on November 2, 2012.