The mood film is an incredibly tricky style to navigate, where if a viewer is offered too little it can prove underwhelming and lacking considerably, where as if it i s too grand and distancing it is easy for it to become deemed pretentious and result in the dismissal of the work by critics, and, subsequently, moviegoers who often foolishly assume that if a critic cannot grasp the movie then it is certainly not for them. Yet, when a mood piece is able to find the middle ground between serene simplicity and grandiose existentialisms the result can be profound, and, almost always, quite watchable, at least this proves to be the case for Julia Loktev's The Loneliest Planet, one of the early releases from last year that seems to have become lost in the hype of Big Hollywood films and the liveliness of Oscar Buzz, which is a bit of a tragedy because like so many low budget films this year it is something both mesmerizing and polarizing and considers the neo-couple in a less than comforting light. In fact, I would closely compare it with Take This Waltz, only this film specifically finds itself set in the mountains of Georgia(the country), as opposed to the urban landscape of Toronto. Both films consider with equal weight the woes and aftermath of one misstep in a assumedly perfect relationship, while carefully plotting all parties involved, never taking sides in the matter, often still careful to remind viewers that no party involved is truly free of blame. I am also usually hesitant to praise a film where the landscape completely consumes its characters, for one this is a tool often used to detract from narrative formation and plot gaps, at least this was certainly the case in something like The English Patient. I will make an exception with The Loneliest Planet, because the narrative is driven by a couples decision to venture forth into a foreign land far from their familiarity inundated with threats both natural and human, invariably crowding in on their inner emotions and ability to engage with one another. Finally, with the exception of a couple of students the film contains only three main characters, an ever risky endeavor that pays off magnificently in this film.
The film begins with the jarring image of a naked Nica (Hani Furstenberg) jumping up and down attempting to keep warm as she waits for Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) to fetch a pitcher of warm water to help heat up her manual shower. It is revealed in this moment that the two are rather expert travelers, engaged to be married, who have decided that their next expedition shall take them through the mountains of Georgia, again that is the country, not the state. Knowing little of the Georgian language aside from basic bartering skills, the two hire Gato (Bidzina Gudjabidze) a season guide whose decent understanding of English assures their safety to a degree, even if it means paying a bit more than initially planned, mostly because Gato shows open concern for having a woman traveling. Regardless, the trio makes a decent group and they travel through the rocks, waters and windy valleys of Georgia, all the while Alex and Nica share in their intimacy, only occasionally concerned with Gato's ability to hear their actions. Unfortunately, Georgia is not a politically stable area and the trio run into some rather angry locals who do not take kindly to foreigners traveling about their land. An older man in the group goes so far as to hold a gun to Alex's face which leads him to unconsciously place Nica in front of him as a human shield, only to quickly realize his mistake and move back in front. The man eventually backs down and the trio are allowed to go, Nica packs quickly and moves along clearly infuriated with Alex. It is during the next few days as Nica deliberately ignores Alex that Gato begins to make moves on Nica, conversing with her and opening up about his own life, yet she eventually realizes that Alex was only acting in a matter of ear and the two rekindle their relationship. However, before this Gato makes a pass at Nica who is not receptive and runs back to the tent where her and Alex engage in somewhat uncomfortable intercourse. The final scene of the films shows the three packing up their tents as though it were the first day of the trip, ignoring the very real betrayals and deceptions which have unfolded in the past few days.
As scathing and biting as The Loneliest Planet proves to be towards the idea of marriage, romance and faithfulness, one cannot help but consider the very international appeal of the film, beginning firstly with its setting. I am admittedly unaware of any other films set in this remote part of the former Soviet Union, but was more than welcoming of the lush landscapes and eerie chilliness of each scene, not to mention the latent tension of its very foreign elements. It is always rewarding to see filmmakers go out of their way to find locales that are not represented in cinema often enough, let alone in a non-fantasized setting. Sure lots of people film in New Zealand, but it is rarely in realistic tone. Even the director Julia Loktev represents a certain amount of internationalism in her Russian-American identity, one that is very much the combination of two opposing ideologies in a historical sense and given Loktev's age I imagine it was a very real experience. The cast is also multi-national including what appears to be a handful of Georgian actors, one Israeli actor and the well-established Bernal of Mexican heritage who is a staple of Spanish cinema, particularly the films of Pedro Almodovar. If all of the production were not enough to make this film international, the dialogue is often varied and never subtitled, allowing for yet another level of multi-nationalism, one that in order to fully comprehend demands a proficiency in at least four different languages. The topics shared by the characters though also expand beyond one nation, Gato speaks about his own past, while also considering the role that China plays in his country, not to mention some rather specific opinions about the Western world, ones that are understandably negative. All of this muddling together, certainly adds a poignancy to the films closing scene of the separated identities breaking down their thin tents, perhaps spaces of separation, and accepting a connectedness, even if said connection is the result of some rather unfortunate engagements.
Key Scene: The moment when Alex unknowingly betrays Nica is so simple that it is nearly deceiving and if you do not pay full attention to its occurring may be perplexed as to why it matters. However, it is a brilliant moment of filming and acting that might be one of the best scenes of last year.
This is a great thing to watch on Netflix, although I recommend doing so when it is dark out, as much of the movie is set against a black backdrop and it can be difficult to judge a frame with any sort of light messing up the screen.