Nearly wordless show of emotion
By Ann Hornaday
Friday, November 2, 2012
If the terrifyingly realistic crash landing in “Flight” makes you squeamish just thinking about it but you’re in the mood for a movie about travel, check out “The Loneliest Planet,” a mesmerizing drama about a footloose couple that, while not spectacular on the surface, manages to plumb some shattering truths about men, women, intimacy and power.
We meet Nica and Alex (Hani Furstenberg and Gael Garcia Bernal) as they are backpacking through the former Soviet republic of Georgia, a young, attractive, intrepid couple as besotted and at ease with global exploration as they are with each other. They engage the services of a guide named Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze), who takes them on a days-long trek through the Caucasus, leading them through its magnificent, forbidding landscape in near-total silence.
That just about sums up “The Loneliest Planet,” which writer-director Julia Loktev filmed in long, unbroken takes, allowing viewers to enter the rhythms, eyelines and small private exchanges of Nica and Alex’s journey, sharing their awe at the strange, moon-like landscape or practicing Spanish conjunctions. Loktev so shrewdly evokes the trance-like state of forward motion and contemplation that, when a pivotal episode interrupts the peaceful mood, it arrives like a jolt from another universe.
“The Loneliest Planet” stays on the same path, but the psychological tectonics have radically shifted, an emotional rearrangement that the filmmaker and cast evoke through a nuanced but eloquent mix of physical space, facial expression, tiny gestures and interpersonal exchanges that are all the more pointed for being nearly wordless.
Like the films of Kelly Reichardt, most recently “Meek’s Cutoff,” Loktev’s “Loneliest Planet” exemplifies what has been called the “slow film movement,” an approach to cinema that favors long, closely observed sequences of human behavior at its most naturalistic, dispensing with mannerisms and dialogue-heavy exposition to capture characters simply being in the world. This looks much easier than it is; in fact, “The Loneliest Planet” unfolds with such seeming spontaneity that it often feels less like a fictional drama than a hybrid form of documentary. We don’t need to know the back story of Nica and Alex to recognize them instantly as the kind of fearless, optimistic young people who need only a water bottle and a valid passport to stride boldly and happily into any situation. For his part, Dato could be any native of a country where Westernization and its mores invite as much skepticism as fascination.
And we don’t need flowery speeches to understand the myriad, confounding contradictions that ensue after the moment that so drastically alters the tenor of their idyll.
“The Loneliest Planet” contains images of striking beauty, scenes of riveting intensity and alert, unforced performances. But it also tells a difficult, even subversive truth, not by hitting it on the head, but by approaching it quietly, from a poetically oblique angle.
Contains adult themes, nudity and sexuality.