The Loneliest Planet September 17, 2021
Gael García Bernal
1 Hr., 53 Mins.
ulia Loktev’s third and most recent movie, The Loneliest Planet (2011), is about the disintegration of a relationship. Hear this and you may reasonably anticipate something along the lines of talky, thematically similar dramas like Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (1966), Scenes from a Marriage (1973), or the recent Marriage Story (2019), where nothing, by the finale, has gone unvoiced by either person in this
doomed coupling. But The Loneliest Planet, we come to learn, serially shirks relationship-drama expectations. Unusually, it’s most of all interested in what goes unsaid — a movie that knows the cliché that actions can speak louder than words is a cliché for a reason. It’s a slowly paced, very deliberate film — and one wouldn’t be harsh to call it boring — that invigoratingly prefers space and subtext to oodles of dialogue that hammer away at fissures, put it to us plainly why they’re expanding.
The main couple in The Loneliest Planet is Alex (Gael García Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg), newly engaged and weeks into a backpacking trip. As the film opens, they’re stationed in Georgia, a country at the nexus of Western Asia and Eastern Europe. After a few days milling about one of its villages, Alex and Nica set off, a local guide (Bidzina Gujabidze) leading the way, into the Caucasus Mountains, a stunning setting whose miles of green and grey makes Nica, with her saffron-red mane, look especially like a mythical beauty. Loktev loves having the cameras, for minutes at a time, rest far away from the three characters, watching passively as they march like little bugs through this vast expanse. The setting is itself a character; after a while we notice how the landscape emotionally complements the drama of the movie, too.
The first half of The Loneliest Planet, in which Alex and Nica are giddy in love, astutely captures the way nature, when waded through during a particularly happy period in one’s life, only enhances personal joyousness. Its grandeur harmonizes beautifully with the minute. In the film’s second half, which comes in the wake of a split-second decision Alex makes that puts a cloud of uncertainty over the relationship, this remains true. Only now nature amplifies new misgivings about the partnership rather than its early ecstasies. Alex and Nica never speak directly about what has happened and how it makes them feel for the remainder of The Loneliest Planet — we ourselves can’t conclusively tell whether Alex is feeling plainly sorry for himself or unfettered guilt — and so the sweeping scenery has a compounding effect. Open air gives surplus space for pessimistic thought.
Some critics point out the opaqueness of the couple (we don’t know how they met, how long they’ve been together, or who they are away from this trip and each other) as a negative. But The Loneliest Planet, I think, doesn’t seem to have traditional character-study ambitions. Loktev seems more concerned with, and is very effective at portraying, how the most minor of decisions in a relationship can create cracks, doomed to continue widening the longer they’re ignored, that can extend into body language and pregnant silence. You aren’t positive what these characters are thinking, but you’re struck by how much the air itself seems to shift after the “incident” (which I won’t reveal) happens. The movie isn't about who these people are, but how they respond to the unexpected. The ending intimates a reconciliation following a hinted-at, and of course never confirmed, uncoupling mid-journey. But like so much else in this intriguingly inexplicit movie, you know when something’s not right. That imbalance haunts. A-