Writer/Director Julia Loktev made an auspicious fiction debut with Day Night Day Night, the story of a young, female, Times Square suicide bomber. While not exactly a sophomore slump, in The Loneliest Planet, her latest effort, the narrative stakes are much lower and her long camera takes don’t quite have the bite.
The plot is simple. A young couple, Alex (Gael García Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg) are on the verge of marriage and go on a trek through the wild terrain of the Caucacus mountains in Georgia. They find a local guide (Bidzina Gujabidze) to lead them, and all goes according to plan until they stumble upon some natives with a gun. An incident takes place, and matters are irrevocably changed amongst the three.
As the journey begins, the film has an undeniable charm and playfulness. The fun and romance of traveling in a foreign country are captured beautifully and with artistic economy. A scene where the couple wanders by a wall and a ball is mysteriously thrown over comes to mind. They throw the ball back and start walking, but the ball comes back over again. This action repeats, creating a game. Similar games of repetition occur throughout the film and are given ample screen time. While they generally capture the spirit of how people pass the time on long trips, they get a bit tiresome to watch. (Also tiresome—some of the long takes following the incident with the natives.)
Sure, Loktev is exploring some interesting issues, including the definition of masculinity and what a modern woman expects from a man in a relationship, but one wishes for a bit more to chew on—or less time for chewing. At times, the minimalism is effective, but though the landscape and soft-light cinematography are beautiful to look at, they can only hold the viewer’s admiration for so long. The actors exude charm and first-timer Bidzina Gujabidze holds his own, but one wonders if the film would have been better served with an actor who could bring more sexual tension to the trio.
Director: Julia Loktev
Writer: Julia Loktev; Tom Bissell (story)
Starring: Gael García Bernal, Hani Furstenberg, Bidzina Gujabidze
Release Date: Oct. 26, 2012