The Loneliest Planet (2011)

Walking, verb conjugation and awkward jokes make up the majority of The Loneliest Planet, a film that one could accuse of being directionless and dull. But much like a hiking trip itself, the film is an escape from the everyday pacing of narrative storytelling. It’s still telling a story, but it’s much more about soaking in the scenery and being with the characters along the way.

It’s the simple moments that make The Loneliest Planet such a memorable film. As the engaged couple Nica (Hani Furstenberg) and Alex (Gael García Bernal) make their way through the town they’re treated to the local foods, begin an impromptu volleyball match with unseen people behind a tall fence and end the evening with a couple of drinks and a dance at the bar. The film doesn’t tell the audience who these people are, but by the end of this opening, they get the highlights: young people in love far away from their home countries.

Both Hani Furstenberg and Gael García Bernal capture the youthful abandon of love, they horse around, goof off, tease each other (often sexually) and are in a constant state of bliss as long as they are together. Mundanities like verb conjugation become a thrill through the lens of youthful passion and love.

But after an incident in the trip, both suddenly find themselves distant. A love that was playful and strong moments before stands on the brink of destruction. In a lesser film, The Loneliest Planet would force its two characters to talk it out, to express the deeper feelings. But communication is rarely that easy, and it’s the wordless acts along the way that begin to express that which neither can bring each other to say.

But it’s not just a twist for the sake of shaking things up and forcing the film to move along. Keen observation shows that the nastier sides of these characters were always lurking in the shadows, Alex always was a bit distant and reserved and Nica was always a bit too playful for her own good.

In two hours, the trip becomes the condensed arc of a romantic relationship, one that begins joyful and heated but once the honeymoon over there’s resentment, pain, loathing and fear that threatens to be irreconcilable. And in those moments, one runs the risk of isolating oneself in that fear and pain, cutting off the rest of the world.

And the beautiful locale of the Caucasus mountains in Georgia (the country) captured by cinematographer Inti Briones constantly reminds the audience of how tiny and small humans are in the grand scheme of the world. Who wouldn’t feel a bit lonely and lost wandering through these mountains?

By the end, much is left unsaid and undone. After the warm intimacy of the first half of the film, the distance of the second half may seem a bit too jarring. Yet like the film, it’s intimacy with its characters reflects the intimacy those characters have between themselves in the moment. And when the break comes, the distance is felt in the filmmaking. It doesn’t end things on a high note, but it feels honest and true to the characters. They’ll face challenges going forward and the pain and heartache can’t be discarded with a bit of movie magic.

© 2012 James Blake Ewing