[caption id="attachment_152270" align="alignleft" width="300"] IFC Films[/caption]
If you like your films fast-paced a la Michael Bay, then steer clear of "The Loneliest Planet," Julia Loktev's entrancing sophomore feature.
Glacially slow by mainstream standards, "The Loneliest Planet" is more concerned with making you think than hoodwinking you with zany plot developments. For cinemagoers seeking a challenging experience sure to rattle in your brain long after you leave the theater, you'd be advised to visit "The Loneliest Planet."
The drama pits Gael Garcia Bernal opposite fresh face Hani Furstenberg as Alex and Nica, a young, spirited couple backpacking across the Caucasus Mountain in Georgia a mere few months before their wedding date. And who can blame them? As captured gorgeously by cinematographer Inti Briones, the lush mountains make for an idyllic getaway for the vacationer with an adventurous spirit.
For the majority of the first half of Loktev's picture, Alex and Nica walk (a lot), and engage in the occasional trivial conversation with their tour guide (Bidzina Gujabidze). Given that not much happens for the first 45 minutes or so, it comes as a complete shock when one spoiler-ish incident occurs at random, forcing Nica to distance herself from Alex for the remainder of their trek. From there on in, "The Loneliest Planet" becomes an intense study of the dynamics of a happy couple tested by an unforeseen happening that pushes their bond to the brink.
Loktev's faith in her audience is remarkable. If this were a studio picture, you could bet your bottom dollar that the screenplay would strive to tell you what to make of the couple. In keeping Alex and Nica at arm's length (it's never made abundantly clear why Nica reacts the way she does to the encounter), Loktev invites you to peer into their lives and bring your own baggage to the party. In other words, "The Loneliest Planet" is a film rife for interpretation.
Whatever yours is, there's no denying the artistry Loktev brings to the table. Like Kelly Richardt ("Meek's Cutoff"), another filmmaker similarly fascinated by the power of silence, Loktev is a master of mood and tension in the absence dialogue. Although not much happens, if you surrender to her vision, chances are you'll be talking about "The Loneliest Planet" for days. We still are.