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"The Loneliest Planet" Finally Lands in Theaters

One of my favorite films from last year's New York Film Festival was The Loneliest Planet starring Gael García Bernal. I sometimes jokingly think of the pocket-sized actor as the mascot of Oscar's Foreign Language Film Category since he appears in frequent submissions and because he really ought to have been nominated himself by now. Worthy performances have included Amores Perros and Bad Education but he's top notch in just about everything whether rescuing a movie from itself (see The Crime of Father Amaro) or being self-effacing and excellent when the film is so much more than just a leading actor's vehicle (see the neo classic Y Tu Mama Tambíen or the Chilean Oscar submission No. No really, see them when you get a chance.) I hadn't really forgotten about The Loneliest Planet but I had given up hope of the ever-delayed theatrical release which has finally come to pass. It opens today in limited release hot on the heels of its Best Picture citation at the Gotham Awards.

So I thought I'd revive last year's review to convince you to see it. Beau recently asked me what the "big spoiler" was but to purposely spoil this gorgeous contemplative picture for yourself is so masochistic. It's not a twist movie per se but in some ways it is all about a shocking split second moment at the center of the picture and why know that beforehand?


Hani Furstenberg could eat Gael García Bernal right up in "The Loneliest Planet"

The review, previously published last September 

The first of the senses that writer/director Julia Loktev hits us with over the opening black screen is sound. We heara  rhythmic pounding/creaking/breathing that's hard to place (sex scene? construction work?). When the fade-up happens, you'd never guess what image is waiting for you. It's something both utterly mundane and alien and strange. This is only the first of the surprises that await you as you journey across the Georgian wilderness with Nica (Hani Furstenberg) and Alex (Gael García Bernal) in The Loneliest Planet

Nica and Alex are madly in love both with each other and their mutual wanderlust. They're seeking an authentic travel experience beyond touristy paths before they marry. English is their common tongue (though neither of their native languages) and the film makes the very smart decision of subtitling nothing, as they attempt to communicate with the locales and teach each other a bit of their native tongues. They sign up with a local guide Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze), the only other major character in the film, and they're off.

The Loneliest Planet ostensibly belongs to the arthouse school of contemplative "slow" films but there's actually quite a lot happening, as we observe Nica and Alex making love, absorbing nature alone or together and alternately building bonds with their guide and ignoring him. The space between each character is more geographically interesting than the landscape surrounding them. (Whether there's enough happening to justify its 113 minute running time is a separate question.)

The movies construction is such that you're climbing its mountain of details to the peak at Act One's curtain where "The Incident" takes place. And then you're climbing back down again in Act Two, with so much new to process in stunned silence.  "The Incident" (which is all I'll call it and what the director herself calls it) is a frightening and confusing moment that's also utterly believable and gorgeously acted. It's rendered all the more potent by the lack of constant cutting that mars so many pictures in the editing stage. The Incident is the movie's guaranteed conversation centerpiece which I fear most reviews with their lazy insistence on plot-plot-plot will give away. Loktev's mode throughout is observational and her refusal to offer up any commentary or (non visual) point-of-view on the matter will surely be counted as a detriment for some and a plus for others. Put another way she's masterfully collecting details but whether or not she has something to say about her treasured collection remains an open question to be answered by future films.

All movies engage your eyes and your ears by their very nature, but seize your visual and aural imagination only with skill. Loktev gently forces a third and dominant sense into the equation. Right from the very first startling image Loktev shows an extraordinary gift for the tactile. How many movies can you feel on your skin? Cold water, the brush of fingertips, a stone in one's shoe, hair violently tossing about in the wind and so many more sensations are beautifully captured. Most tellingly in The Loneliest Planet you can absolutely feel the warmth of a lover's touch and the unavoidable sudden chill whenever bodies separate.  B+ 

Gotham Award Nominations
Chile's No 

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Reader Comments (5)

I am a masochist. You should see my whips.

October 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBeau

He is actually one of my favorite actors.... as you so well put... he is excellent whether a leading or a supporting role ... I loved "The Motorcycle Diaries"...

October 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterrick

Big fan of this movie and, for me, if there was any Oscar justice, both leads would at least be in the discussion.

October 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterBrianZ

This was my favourite from this year's (very solid edition of the) Melbourne Film Festival. My second favourite was "No". (Followed by Amour, Moonrise Kingdom, Tabu, Beasts of the Southern Wild - I'm telling you, it was a great year).

That said, I've never actually been completely sold on Bernal, and he's noticeably the weakest of the three principal players in Planet. I regularly find him very self-conscious on camera and his range reasonably limited. His only performance to properly wow me was Bad Education, though I also thought he was very touching in No.

All the same - I feel towards Bernal the same way I feel towards Kidman:
limited actor who goes out of their way to challenge themselves, and makes sure several films that would otherwise never get made get made (even if I inevitably wish they got made with, say, Julianne Moore or Tahar Rahim playing the lead instead).

October 26, 2012 | Unregistered Commentergoran

I understand taste is something relative, but I think it is somewhat irresponsible to suggest that anyone go see this movie without seriously warning people of how empty and unsatisfying the experience may be. I don't mind slow paced movies, as long as there is enough content (visually, emotionally) to fill in the space. This Loneliest Planet, however, has no depth whatsoever. There is simply nothing interesting about these "characters"(if you can call them that) and their stakes are so low that no one should really care what happens to them. The movie is so poorly written (at the Q&A, the director stated that there was in fact a script). This is a movie directed by someone who probably leads a boring life in a boring relationship and is boring herself and thinks that hiking in the mountains of Georgia is the most intense and interesting thing ever and that other people will also think the same. Oh, "the incident" does not have the impact it is supposed to have and even if it did, it would not be enough to justify the other vacuous minutes that come before and after that.

October 28, 2012 | Unregistered Commenterj
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