Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg on vacation in Georgia
The Loneliest Planet
Written and directed by Julia Loktev
Starring: Gael Garcia Bernal, Hani Furstenberg, Bidzina Gujabidze
Run Time: 113 minutes
MPAA rating: Unrated
The arresting sight of a nude Nica (Hani Furstenberg) jumping up and down, red curls streaming in the cold, opens this backpacking movie, set against the dreamy and eerily empty landscape in the Caucasians.
As Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) mutters “Sorry … sorry!” and pours water over her. We learn the two lovers are roughing it in the outback of Georgia (the original Georgia, that is), with no creature comforts other than each other’s bodies.
Take heed, you hikers and lovers in search of undiscovered Edens and bliss in the wilds. This is the place, and you’ll learn a few useful Spanish past tense irregular verbs as well, thanks to informative and eye-pleasing Garcia Bernal.
You’ll also take a long, hard look at your guide, charismatically played here by Bidzina Gujabidze, who really is a Caucasian wilderness guide in Georgia.
This is as good a moment as any to break the news to you that you’re not going to learn a lot more. Directed by the promising Russian-American director Julia Loktev, “The Loneliest Planet” is adapted from a short story by Tom Bissell called “Expensive Trips Nowhere,” which explains a bit of why not much happens.
Luckily, the actors are hotty-assed eye candy, and maybe that’s why “short” is a word that evidently holds no appeal for Loktev, who never turns down a chance to dwell at length on … well, her sexy stars in this empty landscape. Director of Photography Inti Briones has a painterly eye and is a dab hand at fixing the widest horizon imaginable in a subtle palette of greens and grays.
For long minutes, we track the three figures trekking slowly from left to right, underscored by a haunting Richard Skelton score. By contrast, the night shots are impossible to make out, and also longwinded and mostly black.
This is the other Georgia that will be always on your my-my-my-my-my-my-mind; and you will also learn the Georgian for thank you, sorry, and help. This Caucasian wilderness is conjured from a dreamscape of velvety green hills where you feel you’ve been before, perfectly pristine and filled with nothing much but vaguely menacing Georgian Deliverance moments.
The impression is of artistic minimalism, where nothing not much happens. “Alright, I get it, this wilderness is an empty wilderness,” you sigh eventually: “I give in.” Although eventually something does happen, at least half the movie could perish without peril.
There’s already precious little plot to spoil, so let’s just leave it there. By the time the lovers meet one crystalline stream too many (a late plot detail) we realize they don’t actually have much to say to each other and never did.
As the lovers and their guides tentatively slog across rocky slabs up grassy hills, minutiae in the lovers’ interplay and conversations are adverse affects in the scary emptiness. It will remind you of Narnia, or the time you hitchhiked somewhere with a new, blazing romance and came back single again, hoorah.