[Review] – The Loneliest Planet

8 Nov

Title: The Loneliest Planet
Year: 2012
Director: Julia Loktev
Writer: Julia Loktev, based on the short story by Tom Bissell
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Hani Furstenberg, Bidzina Gujabidze
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 113 min
IMDb Rating: 5.5
Rotten Tomatoes: 68%
Metacritic: 76

I have a friend that just kept telling me that I needed to watch The Loneliest Planet, a film that was around at last year’s TIFF, and I’m damn glad I listened to her. The film is based on a short story by Tom Bissell that’s called Expensive Trips Nowhere (which I, unfortunately, haven’t read but will correct tonight) and, like most great short story adaptations, knows just how to surpass the limitations that one may assume come forth with such a short source material.

Not only does it use the short story to ground its film narratively but it also uses it to really present us with a terrifically thought-provoking premise that just underlies whatever happens next and writer-director Julia Loktev (making her sophomore effort here) narrows in on all these little details ever so exquisitely and provides us with a film that, visually, really gets to you. Not to mention that Gael García Bernal and Hani Furstenberg are really fantastic in the lead roles, that helped, too.

They play Alex and Nica, a young couple that’s deeply in love and engaged to be married who love to travel and, on the summer before their wedding, decide to jet off to the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia. They hire a local guide, played by Bidzina Gujabidze, to take them on a camping trip through this really breathtaking place and, while they’re there, the relationship of Alex and Nica will be tested. That’s probably the log line that defines this the best and yet not one that could really prepare you for The Loneliest Planet.

Because, trust me, you do need to be somewhat prepared. This is one of those arthouse films that most conventional audiences probably won’t get, you need to know that, and even though I thought Ms. Loktev did a beautiful job surpassing the limitations that come with adapting a short story I can also see how some people could find this tiresome, how they could find that whatever material was there just isn’t enough to sustain a 113-minute film like the one we get here. I get how those thoughts could arise, but I also respectfully disagree with them.

Yes, this film moves as slow as this backpacking couple does but it also has this undeniable and very quiet power over you that just beckons you to keep a watchful eye over it during every step it takes. It’s just haunting, you know, Ms. Loktev has managed to create a sense of claustrophobia while in an open scenery and has done it brilliantly, without much fuss, just trusting the simplicity of her story and her two lead actors, displaying a level of confidence that really took me by surprise to see coming from a director so early in her career.

How the film works for you probably hinges on how you respond to its most crucial moment, to that event that happens in the midst of all the quietness that’s what throws this movie for a loop and threatens the relationship that’s at its core. I personally thought it was just so expertly done, I thought it was gorgeously staged and it managed to really get under your skin. What I loved most about it is that it didn’t become another movie even though it so easily could have, it was still nuanced and understated, still slow-burning and minimalistic. I thought everything worked as it was meant to, it was deliberate in its way of saying so much by saying so little and in the exploration it proposed of this relationship.

Again, you have to be prepared for The Loneliest Planet. I can’t say that enough. The brief description I provided for the film probably sounded so vague but that’s because that’s how this film is, the only real major thing that happens in it is that one big event that lasts a few seconds at most. I won’t dare spoil it here because I won’t dare spoil the power it will prove to have, I just love that there’s a film that’s all about what that little moment brings, that’s about all these subtle things in a relationship, about masculinity and, perhaps most of all, about sheer trust.

I say the film is quiet and I mean that quite literally, so much of what’s really going on in it isn’t verbally communicated. The fact that Ms. Loktev took a short story and made it a film without really exaggerating or adding to the plot was brilliant in this case because it allowed her to go into such intimate and minute observation of what we have that it felt amazing, it felt at times more like we were reading a book than watching a movie. How she and her actors work with the tension that these characters develop, what they do with that loss of communication after that event is really something to behold.

This film will, in all likelihood, be one of those that’s just criminally ignored by general audiences and yet it will probably remain one of the most emotionally affecting films of 2012. Mr. Bernal, an actor I happen to really like, does these little things that add so much depth to his character and Ms. Furstenberg reminded me (and not just because of her hair) of Jessica Chastain, and left me wishing she’ll also breakout and become a star. It’s what they do with their bodies, with their eyes, that elicits that emotionally charged response from us as audiences.

For the third and last time: be prepared for The Loneliest Planet. It’s not an easy or light watch, it’s a two-hour film in which not much is said, one of those films that’s more about feeling it than seeing it and the kind that you have to work your way through. It’s a film that comes from a really, really talented director who not only had the balls to make a film that, while visually stunning, relied on so much silence but she also had the balls to have all the payback rely on a moment so brief that if you blink you may miss it. I didn’t blink, I didn’t miss it, it got to me. This movie’s great.

Grade: A-

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