Displacing Tom Bissell's short story "Expensive Trips Nowhere" to the verdant hills of Georgia, Julia Loktev re-imagines the somber, transient tale of love, fissured by a momentary, yet infinitely projecting incident. Set against the lush, ex-Soviet highland, The Loneliest Planet follows two itinerant lovers as they backpack across Georgia's uncanny prominence, accompanied by a hired trails-man. The couple, played with comforting intimacy by Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg, radiate the easy to approach nature of well-honed travelers, seeking knowledge and experience, happy to quietly dance the night away beneath an unknown moon.
Travelling, the group playfully shares space, turning the crags and vistas, toted ropes and industrial jetsam into games; manipulating the landscape into a far-off playground. Their guide, always watchful and accommodating, joins in when nearby, shedding his craft in jokes and stories. As the group makes way, mountainous reliefs dwarf the frame, projected as calmly removed wide shots, calculating scale and remoteness, while allowing time to assess the group's trappings and interplay. Unfortunately for the travelers, these mellifluous breaks, along with the journey at hand, will soon sway their dulcet beauty to a more discordant tone.
The incident, mentioned initially and purposefully left vague, will remain so as to not intrude on the viewing experience. What will not be left to ambiguity is the overwhelming force with which the incident strikes. An incomparable moment of impact, when no stone is thrown, but everything shatters. A silent explosion within the eyes, mutely reeling the brain towards comprehension, fighting the known loss of a preciousness, once protected.
Irreconcilable, the incident yields an immediate deconstruction of all that came before, whose recourse must suffer the peregrination at hand. Blameless but continually at fault, the once majestic countryside is transformed into an open-aired vault of introspection. Rivers and waylays now trespassing the caustic discretion.
A slowly enveloping perambulation, adrift in the beauty of nature and the stubborn, self-centered survival of man, The Loneliest Planet basks in the same unencumbered light as Kelly Reichardt, without quite reaching the same heights.
Review originally published during the New York Film Festival in September 2011. The films opens in limited theatrical release in the U.S. on Friday, October 26, and will be available via various VOD platforms on Tuesday, October 30.