Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Loneliest Planet

For about 75 minutes, Julia Loktev's "The Loneliest Planet" enveloped me in its slow, sedulous trance. The young, affianced lovers Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg) spend the summer before their marriage backpacking through the Caucasus in the country of Georgia. After a few nights in a village, they engage a local man, Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze), to guide them on a challenging course over perilous mountain terrain.

Loktev employs a deliberate pace to bring us into the mindframe of Alex and Nica, both terse and aloof protagonists. She films long, long tracking shots of the three campers slowly traversing muddy fields and jagged passes, holding them to the breaking point. She constructs images that show both the staggering, gray-green beauty of the landscape and the insular closeness between Alex and Nica. Throughout, she builds an ineffable sense of foreboding.

Then, it happens, the blink-and-you'll-miss-it action (and instinctive reaction by one of the three) that threatens to redefine all of their relationships. From there, Loktev alters the composition of her scenes, showing the space between Alex and Nica where before there was none, the distance and silence filled only by the mindless conjugation of foreign verbs. The first 75 minutes of "The Loneliest Planet" are really something to see.

But the last 40 minutes are just too slow for words, filled with meaningless campfire conversation between Nica and Dato (Bernal's gone to bed and you feel you'd rather be with him), culminating in a gesture that comes out of nowhere and that neither my friend nor I bought for a minute (either the making of it or the accepting of it). And then the movie's over. There's just not enough payoff for the time and energy we've invested in these sketchily drawn characters.

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