THE LONELIEST PLANET (2011)
(directed by Julia Loktev)
(**** out of 5)
Wow. What a remarkable film this is! Though often skeptical of films made for TV, the Independent Film Channel sure short-circuits that attitude. Happy to say, IFC’s THE LONELIEST PLANET is another example of the increased diversity of filmmaking we can expect when more women take control of the director’s chair. Julia Loktev (director of the extraordinary 2006 film DAY NIGHT DAY NIGHT), has made a beautiful, mysterious, occasionally challenging relationship film with Hani Furstenberg and the ever game Gael Garcia Bernal very fine in their roles, as Alex and Nica, an engaged and engaging young couple on a trek through the wild and gorgeous caucus Mountains in former Russian republic of Georgia, led by a local guide. These majestic mountains provide a solid sense of place that anchors a film that takes us from the blissful to the harrowing and beyond.
. Our appealing couple begins as sexy, playful lovers but things get complicated along the trail. Their sad-eyed guide “Dato” comes from a background of near-constant war, and he is dealing with the grief of unimaginable loss. Something terrifying and unforeseeable happens that tests all three of them in a moment of desperate tension. Alex is wracked with guilt and shame over his instinctual reaction. For her part, Nica is traumatized, the veils pulled from her eyes, and her relationship will never be the same.
. Everything unfolds at a measured pace that some will find trying. Many shots linger, perhaps a bit too long considering we begin to wonder how the other characters offscreen are reacting. We get many static shots of jaw-dropping scenic grandeur, with characters making their way across the frame like ants on the march, making them almost secondary characters, clearly at the mercy of their environment. It’s a film that occasionally seems to take itself too seriously, but eventually wins you over anyway. Interesting choices abound in this resonant film. The soundtrack and score are vital ingredients here, and used to singular and striking effect. Each scene seems to have its own score, which can start or cease as suddenly as the scene ends, not carrying through from scene-to-scene as is usually done, to create a coherent whole. This creates the impression that each moment has its unique tenor, and when that moment is gone- so is the music. It’s a little jarring, but highly effective.
. Every frame held my interest, so I will sure be looking for more films from the talented Ms. Loktev! This woman has a vision!
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