Quick double review: Julia Loktev’s “The Loneliest Planet”

Poster for "The Loneliest Planet"

Daniel and I recently saw the new film from writer/director Julie Loktev, The Loneliest Planet. The film features an engaged couple, Alex (Gael García Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg), who are backpacking through the Caucasus Mountains, when something significant and spoilery happens, that Changes Everything™. What follows are our unfiltered thoughts on the film.

The Loneliest Planet is described as a thriller, which is about the biggest bunch of crap I have ever heard. This meandering, pointless tale about two uninteresting travelers is not only grating to the audience; it’s insulting. Long, directionless shots of repetitive Georgian landscapes are coupled with minimal dialogue, next to zero context, and horrendously boring characters. The big event which “changes everything ” was actually a laugh moment. Instead of exploring what this means for the couple, we get more walking (now with body language cues!) and one of the longest most irritating scenes I can remember (featuring a campfire song). Minimalism can certainly work for you, but you need some dialogue, subtitles if other languages are present (the tour guide is difficult to understand-not that it mattered), and character development to tell a story. At the end this is a 5-10 minute short that is elongated to a maddening length. Avoid.

My esteemed colleague detested this film only slightly more than I did. I will grant that idea of a couple’s relationship quietly breaking down thanks to a single, horrendous misstep is a fascinating one. I will even grant that depicting this encroaching gulf between them with minimal dialogue, particularly in the presence of a total stranger on vacation, also seems realistic. Anyone who has been to an uncomfortably silent dinner engagement between a pair of estranged hosts can certainly testify to this. The problem with this film is that we’re given next to no information about these characters. We don’t know who they are, how long they’ve been together, why they’re on this trip, or most importantly, what they mean to each other. They might have dated for years, or met last week in El Salvador (one of the many places Nica brags about visiting) – and knowing just a bit of this information might have provided a bit more perspective for “the big event”. While there are a few scenes that give us a modicum of backstory for these characters, they tended to be overlong in all the wrong ways. An early scene of unsubtitled dialogue with some Georgian villagers goes on for nearly a full minute past the point of telling us that A, these characters don’t speak the language, and B, they’re adventurous enough to be okay with this.

And that’s really the most frequent vice this film indulges in. It uses a rich tapestry of cinematography to show the couple (and their guide) trudging across the gorgeous mountain landscape, but each of these shots lasts longer than it needs to (even after I had finished studying every detail of the frame as I would a painting), and utilizes a score that comes off as increasingly repetitive – much like the landscape itself. In the end, the film doesn’t reveal much about relationships in general, because it reveals next to nothing about the relationship at its center. There is a skeleton of a character study here (with a decent performance from Furstenberg at the heart of it), but it is wrapped up in such a meager helping of character, dialogue, or story, that the resulting work comes off as hollow, insubstantial, and utterly boring.

FilmWonk rating: 2 out of 10

One thought on “Quick double review: Julia Loktev’s “The Loneliest Planet”

  1. Pingback: FilmWonk Podcast – Episode #60 – “Force Majeure” (dir. Ruben Östlund) | FilmWonk

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