The Loneliest Planet | Movie review
A lovers’ vacation gets complicated in Julia Loktev’s enthralling drama.
Initially, and for a serene stretch, The Loneliest Planet plays like the most idyllic romance you’ve ever laid eyes on—a joyfully aimless portrait of young love, photographed against vast expanses of the great unknown. Two backpackers, Nica (Hani Furstenberg) and Alex (Gael García Bernal), wander an impossibly green, hilly landscape. They’re vacationing in the Caucasus and are engaged to be married. We learn this through the sporadic, easygoing rapport they share with their guide, a local named Dato (real-life mountaineer Bidzina Gujabidze). Little else is revealed about their lives, but we can tell, from how they huddle close in the dark and hang on each other in the light, that they are deeply and comfortably in love. The movie grooves on that infatuation, unfolding through a series of playfully mundane episodes. Gorgeously, enthrallingly, it’s a film in which nothing much happens.
That is, of course, until something does happen—an event so brief yet momentous, it tears a gaping hole in the movie we think we’ve been watching. It’s with this disruption, a plot point best not spoiled, that The Loneliest Planet reveals the full scope of its ambition. Writer-director Julia Loktev, whose previous credit is the suicide-bomber thriller Day Night Day Night, has constructed a relationship drama as radically bifurcated as Tropical Malady and as trenchantly insightful as Everyone Else. Poetry hardens into psychology; even the scenery, once inviting, seems to warp. Flooded with new meaning, the film navigates rocky territory, from the dangers of globetrotting naïveté to the pressures of modern masculinity. At heart, though, this is a story about tests of character—those little trials, sprung on us at random, that reveal who we really are. For Nica and Alex, the moment of truth is a burden. Ignorance never seemed so blissful.