It definitely feels like a short story with little added to it despite its two hour runtime.
The Loneliest Planet
The Loneliest Planet is an experimental film that observes more than it explains and will ultimately test your patience as a viewer. The film is based on the short story by Tom Bissell entitled, Expensive Trips Nowhere. It definitely feels like a short story with little added to it despite its two hour runtime. The film was not what I was expecting, mainly because I was expecting more.
Backpacking through the Caucaus Mountains in Georgia are the thirty-something couple Nica (Hani Furstenberg) and Alex (Gael García Bernal). But they are not alone. The couple hires a local travel guide named Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze) to help them explore the wilderness on the summer before their wedding.
Early on in the expedition it truly feels like a lonely planet with wide open stationary shots of just the three of them hiking along the desolate paths. The Loneliest Planet does a good job of setting an empty vibe early on. Adding to this is the fact that the dialog slowly diminishes over time, to the point where we are mostly observing them and nothing else.
Dialog is a very interesting part of The Loneliest Planet. Not only is there little of it to begin with but even when it is spoken it is hard to pick up. That is because their guide speaks broken English that is difficult to discern. But what is most interesting is that everything that is spoken in Georgian is not subtitled, which puts us in the same shoes as the couple who do not speak it.
Dato is not overly friendly, maybe it is because he barely cracks a smile. He seems like he is either being extremely professional or on a mission of some sort. But perhaps it just seems that way because Nica and Alex are so much more playful, they stop at one point to see who can stand on their hands the longest while counting in increments of “one chimpanzee”.
Some say that describing the “incident” that occurs in the film would be a huge spoiler and therefore a disservice to the viewer. I suppose going into The Loneliest Planet knowing little as possible is probably ideal, but can you not say that about nearly every film? So “spoilers” for The Loneliest Planet will not be present in this review because frankly, there is not a whole lot to spoil. However, I will refrain from describing what the incident is out of generosity.
There is a strong sense that something terrible is going to happen at any moment. This becomes especially apparent when Dato is showing off his knot tying skills to tie up Nica’s hands together. He gets the knot so tight that he needs Alex to pass him a knife in order to cut the knot free. If you watch closely there is plenty of subtle foreshadowing throughout that something is going to happen.
At the same time, the film is in no hurry to progress the story at all. For example, it frequently just shows them hiking along or Nica and Alex playing footsy together. You must be patient not only during the first half of the film but all the way to the credits. If you were expecting more of a plot based film, you came to the wrong film. It is a true slow-burner.
I suppose you could compare The Loneliest Planet to The Tree Of Life in many ways. Both focus more on visually stunning cinematography and spend more time observing rather than offering a typical narrative. Many people walked out on both films. In this case, before one of the screenings of the film at the New York Film Festival director Julia Loktev announced before the start, “I will see you all after the movie, if you are still here.” However, this film did not resonate with me nearly as much as The Tree Of Life did.
The Loneliest Planet does not leave much middle ground between a hit or miss. Even though it was a miss for me, it may be a hit for you, especially if you go in knowing that it is a slow-burner and brace yourself for it. By no means is the film a total flop, there are some really good aspects to it. I just wished this minimalist film eventually went somewhere, anywhere.