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The Loneliest Planet (2011)

"Before viewing" talks don't have spoilers, but since there's no "After viewing" talk for this one, comments may have spoilers. More»» by Randy Heffner

With grace, beauty, tenderness, and most of all subtlety — extreme subtlety — The Loneliest Planet tells an intimate story of love and character. Unhurried and sensually rich, the film invites us to quietly observe, then deeply ponder, what happens on a couple’s journey through the Caucasus Mountains.

Nica and Alex are engaged to be married, and they love nature. They travel to the Caucasus Mountains, where they arrange for a guide, Dato, to lead them on a long trek. It’s a wonderful trip through beautiful scenery. Then, something unexpected and dangerous happens — the sort of occurrence that can reveal surprising things about a person — and they must come to terms with what transpires. Running time: 113 min.

Personally, I was enthralled by the richness and subtlety with which The Loneliest Planet does its work. It took me to the mountains, where I could imagine myself trekking with Nica and Alex, hearing the wind in the grass, smelling the moist air by a roaring stream, feeling small stones roll under my feet — and seeing the small yet significant moments that enrich and fortify a relationship. In the moment when the event happens, and in its aftermath, silent, previously unconsidered questions come to the fore. What do we assume we know about another person? What expectations have we unwittingly placed on them — unthought and unsupported expectations waiting to be challenged? What do we do with the disappointment that will inevitably come when we are in relationship with our frail human companions?

Planet’s filmcraft is outstanding, especially the acting, which embodies the film’s subtlety. But I must hasten to say that it is the sort of film that, for many, is an acquired taste. And it is well worth it. Its pacing is slow — unless you are able to slow down with it and grasp for the wonder and beauty in every shot. Its subtlety requires viewers to pay rapt attention moment by moment, even second by second, actively engaging with the significance of each shot, both before, during, and after the turning point event (advance warning: the event, when it comes, is less than one or two seconds in length — so don't look away). If you have a heart for simple things and a love for people, the richness of the film's scenery, the smiles and joy of Nica and Alex, and the depth of Dato's experience and character make this easy to do.

The Loneliest Planet is very much worth the time. I would especially recommend it for couples, for whom there will be great rewards in the film's reinforcement of the significance of small things (and big things) in a relationship.

The Loneliest Planet is unrated. Although there are two or three sex scenes (not explicit, but clear enough), the more surprising thing is the film opening with full frontal female nudity (a cold mountain shower, not a sex scene). There is some language sprinkled throughout.

  • Director: Julia Loktev
  • Screenplay: Julia Loktev based on short story by Tom Bissell
  • Leads: Hani Furstenberg, Gael García Bernal, Bidzina Gujabidze
  • Cinematography: Inti Briones
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