The Loneliest Planet is one of the toughest films to watch this year. It goes at an extremely slow pace preferring to give long looks into nature rather than showcasing action. It showcases an innocent relationship slowly and excruciatingly falling apart, and it ends in a very unconventional matter. Furthermore, it provides no easy answers, but that is it’s greatest strength. The Loneliest Planet is one of this year’s best films because it asks some of the greatest questions about human nature while leaving the answers up to the viewers.
The Loneliest Planet follows a couple (played by Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg) that goes on a hiking trip into the Caucasus Mountains with a guide during the summer before their wedding. On the trip the couple comes upon a situation that reveals the true nature of themselves and puts their relationship into chaos. The film is directed and written by Julia Loktev (a Russian filmmaker who is making her first film in six years).
While Julia Loktev’s script surely had a lot to it, this is definitely a director’s film. In fact it is very reminiscent of a Terrence Malick film. The style as if Julia Loktev tried copying Malick’s style without any visual knowledge of what that style is like. As such it is reminiscent of but still feels like something new. Loktev’s shots of the characters in nature are gorgeous and thematically relevant. One of the main questions this film asks is what is humanity naturally inclined to do and the cinematography of this film perfectly captures that question. Loktev also does a great job of handling the film’s big moment (the moment at which the film’s central relationship goes spiraling out of control). It’s a shocking moment and yet Loktev makes it feel completely natural. While Loktev doesn’t completely nail the ending, her directing prowess makes this film an interesting tale of the battle between the limits of human nature and society’s expectations.
Loktev really lucks out with two fantastic leads. Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg have perfect chemistry together. He is the ying to her yang, and they play perfectly off of each other. That is important because everything in the film depends on this relationship. Yet Bernal and Furstenberg do great work as individual characters too. Bernal gets the showier role and he nails these moments while still maintaining the film’s realism. The true stalwart of the film though is newcomer Hani Furstenberg. She has quite a few moments that require a lot of bravery as an actor and she steps up. Additionally, the camera loves to linger on her face and it is in these quiet moments that Furstenberg really brings the performance home as she adds such an amount of subtlety. The most important thing these two actors accomplish though is that they are able to bring their acting differences together and make it so that you can never truly prefer one over the other in the film’s relationship. The film’s only other performance is that of Bidzina Gujabidze as the hiking guide, who pales in comparison to the performances of the other two.
The Loneliest Planet is not going to be for everyone (or most people), but for those who like a slow burning philosophical debate this is a winner.