The Loneliest Planet

Nov 29, 2012

It's lonely on the trail and in the heart.

The Loneliest Planet
Grade: B
Director:  Julia Loktev (Day Night Day Night)
Screenplay: Loktev
Cast: Gael Garcia Bernal (The Motorcycle Diaries), Hani Furstenberg (Campfire)
Rating: NR
Runtime: 113 min
by John DeSando

I’ve not hiked the Caucasus Mountains of post-Soviet Georgia, near Russia, Turkey, and Iran, but judging from the thriller called The Loneliest Planet, I’d better be prepared. But not for dangerous animals—only goats and sheep seem to make a home there.  The real animals are men who threaten women with their aggression or their weakness—either presents a problem.

While traveling with a guide, Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze), engaged couple Alex (Gael Bernal Garcia) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg) start off the journey in high spirits and with as randy activity as the circumstances will allow. Be prepared for the slowest movie this year, as director Julia Loktev lets you into the rhythm of three travelers ambling among the metaphorically ambivalent verdant valleys and craggy mountains.

Ruined homes and rain forecast rough times to come, and they do with the brief emergence of a trio, an older man with a rifle and two younger men. What ensues is not as clear as I would like, let’s say the infamous scene form Deliverance, but apparently Alex’s split-second interaction with them leaves Nica cold and remote. I write “apparently” because the incident is swiftly over.

The ensuing silent days are alternately natural for people who have traveled together and unnatural for their unwillingness to address their anxieties.  It’s all pretty slow except for the campfire shenanigans, which again color the mood.

For those who found Gus Van Sant’s Gerry with two guys wandering in the desert as slow as the air is to cool, this spare film with too much un-translated Georgian and too little clarifying English will bewilder you as you try to translate the minimal body language of the three travelers. It has not the clarity of Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water with its three very different sailors, nor the violence.

Nica reads a passage that sums up the dangers the isolated region and lonely characters offer to us:

“The rise of the road increases, the mountains close in more and more tightly, and it seems as though there is no longer any hope; only a bit of sky is visible above our heads. It has a disheartening effect on us; we are overwhelmed and keep silent. Suddenly, at a sharp turn in the road, a huge chasm opens up on our right….”

For the critics looking sharply a how the liberated young woman fares with men of varying traits, I’m guessing men will not come off well in the analysis.  Just prepare a bit better next time you trek the Georgian mountains or the Rockies for that matter.

John DeSando co-hosts WCBE 90.5’s It’s Movie Time and Cinema Classics, which can be heard streaming and on-demand at
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