A critical fave at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival, Julia Loktev’s follow-up to her 2006 “Day Night Day Night,” “Lonliest Planet” starts hunky Mexican star Gael Garcia Bernal as Alex and the fresh faced, confident Nica (Hani Furstenberg)- a couple playfully back-packing through the Caucasus mountains together in Georgia (formerly part of Russia) , led by their wary guide Dato (local, hired guide Bidzina Gujabidze.)
Young, sexy and in love, these two appear to be cozying into a very happy, hipster future together. Until the middle of their trek, when the trio is casually ambushed by two peasants. No t to give the story away, this seemingly quiet yet very impactful event stretches the limits of their relationship, as it comes apart as gently as a tissue thrown away after a good cry before our very eyes.
Hani Furstenberg is a truly great find-she’s a dynamic actress. Her hair as red as flame, she exudes an almost beguiling confidence, realizing without fully realizing, in the end, who her lover really is. Bernal is also terrific at portraying her boyfriend who seems to know before Nica does that he is out of his depth altogether, in terms of her strength and courage.
Supposedly, the title is poking fun at those “Lonely Planet” guides for the young and carefree traveler. Loktev doesn’t seem as much to be commenting about a generation, the state of the world itself, or the blithely Western ignorance of what it means to have your country fall apart after a war. It seems she just wants to show us how our perceptions, if we are fortunate enough, can change on a dime. She seems to be encouraging us not to wait for a life-threatening moment to occur before analyzing who and what it is we really love.
The film is overall pretty slow moving, but the terrific score keeps us moving right along with vast long shots of the trio pilgrimming through the sharp terrain. The dialogue is sparse but overall the film is sharp, enjoyable, and really stays with you-the Lonliest Planet is a vivid character portrait of a relationship unraveling. Check it out next week at the New York Film Festival.