Gael Garcia Bernal as Alex, Bidzina Gujabidze as Dato, and Hani Furstenberg as Nica. Click on the 'Play' button above to watch the trailer for The Loneliest Planet.
By Simon Miraudo
April 8, 2013
Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg are marvellous - and marvellously comfortable with one another - as Alex and Nica in Julia Loktev's dark travelogue, The Loneliest Planet. The first half of the feature sees their engaged couple wander, almost aimlessly, across Georgia (the one near Russia, and not the one that Gladys Knight and the Pips once sang about). They're joined only by faithful guide Dato, played by Bidzina Gujabidze, who remains just that until the final act, when he becomes something far more significant. Taking that midnight train to Georgia has never seemed less appealing.
Halfway through the picture, the trio encounters some threatening individuals. Are their lives in danger? Maybe. Before anyone can be certain, Alex makes a choice that changes the tenor of his and Nica's carefree existence, possibly forever. His specific actions aren't explicitly addressed by the characters from this point forward, but Loktev's camera - handled by DOP Inti Briones - helps convey the transition in their relationship. Wide open landscapes now feel claustrophobic, and our protagonists seem isolated from one another, despite them often being the only two characters in the frame. To paraphrase another song, this time by The Kinks, they are now very much strangers on this road.
The Loneliest Planet is, admittedly, very tough to discuss without mentioning the single major plot point that occurs at the mid-point. Those without the patience of a saint might find it difficult to sit through the movie simply to find out what occurs, and may even feel frustrated by its non-resolution. I'd say it's only just worth the endurance trial. An impressive achievement on a technical level, and wonderfully performed, yet a little too emotionally inert to find satisfying. It leaves a lot of the heavy lifting to the audience.
Perhaps the same end result could have been achieved in less than its 113 minutes. This was, after all, based on a short story; Tom Bissell's Expensive Trips Nowhere. But then, would it have the same effect? As it stands, The Loneliest Planet acts as a Rorschach test for viewers; particularly those who are unsure about the current state of their romantic partnerships. Frankly, I've greatly enjoyed discussing the film, whereas I merely tolerated the experience of actually watching it.
The Loneliest Planet plays the Perth International Arts Festival from April 9 - 14. It is now showing in Melbourne and Sydney.