Review of The Loneliest Planet

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An engaged couple's backpacking trip in the Caucasus Mountains is derailed by a single misstep that threatens to undo everything the pair believed about each other and about themselves.
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Movie Review: "The Loneliest Planet"

-- Rating: NR
Length: 113 minutes
Release date: May 25, 2012
Directed by: Julia Loktev
Genre: Thriller

Three characters and stunning views of the Eastern European landscape are all you see during much of the 113 minutes of "The Loneliest Planet." The seemingly plodding movie does find its way into some very deep waters, in the form of an act that reshapes the entire dynamic of the film. It works to engage the audience by asking questions that may just change lives long after the film is over.

The real question that director and writer Julia Locktev seems to pose is: "Do you know your mate as well as you think you do?" The lovebirds in the film, Nica (Hani Furstenburg) and Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal), embark on a journey into the wilderness led by guide Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze). The two are engaged and very much in love and play cute little games during the first leg of their trip, displaying their affection for anyone to see-if anyone else were around. Backpacking through the Caucasus Mountains can get a little lonely at times, and it's a good thing that the couple have one another and an able guide, but will that be enough?

Loktev captures the first leg of the trip with wide shots of the threesome simply picking their way through the wilderness, which seems to emphasize just how isolated the group is from civilization. However, these shots also serve as an observation of the couple in love. The movement of the group from the left side of the screen to the right further signifies progress in both the trip and the relation that Nica and Alex are building. It is only at the second half of the film that audiences will notice in hindsight the forward action in the first half of "The Loneliest Planet."

There is a pivotal action in the middle of the film that changes its dynamic and visual composition. However, this important act isn't something audiences will anticipate. While many will be looking for the guide to fall off the edge of a cliff or become dangerously hurt, others may expect an ax murderer to show up. Viewers should watch closely, because the most important part of the film is something that anyone could blink and miss. What the audience will not miss is the sudden change on the entire film thereafter. Loktev's long shots began illustrating just how damaging the act is to the new couple, who may survive the trip but not one another. Their movement reverses from a left-to-right motion to a right-to-left motion, signifying a regression in the couple's relationship, which will be forever changed by their journey through the mountains.

Although no one is harmed much physically, it is the psychological damage that Loktev manages to capture and convey to the viewer. Nica and Alex get the answer to the question of how well do you know your mate. However, the answer may not be anything either of them could probably survive. Loktev hints at troubles that are irreversible and forever a shadow on the relationship, if it is destined to continue. The isolation and loneliness grows ominous during the last leg of their trip, which is the shameful trek to their final destination.

Despite the lack of typical hiking thriller violence, "The Loneliest Planet" does offer a thrill of a different kind and violence that is uncommon but valid in the terms of this film. A couple enters an isolating situation, believing that this would bring them closer together, but it only serves to make both sides question their future union. The violence is done to the couple's trust and relationship bond, which neither the audience nor Nica and Alex would believe were at stake when they started the trek. Loktev does a great job of capturing these moments that are unspoken and translating them in a language of film that audiences can follow. While captivated by the scenery and anticipating the act that kills the relationship, audiences will find that Nica and Alex aren't the only ones who have some soul-searching to do. Loktev's creative filming and wonderful script will have everyone in the theater questioning the strength in themselves and the person that they call a mate.

"The Loneliest Planet" is a journey that international film enthusiasts can enjoy alongside the traditional thriller lover. It has a little bit of something in it for everyone.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars