Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet screens tonight at 9 p.m. It’s currently without U.S. distribution.
One thing happens in The Loneliest Planet, a single incident that divides the film in half and unbalances the relationships of its central characters. Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg play an engaged couple pre-honeymooning through the wilderness of Georgia (the former Soviet satellite); non-professional Bidzina Gujabidze is their guide across the grassy valleys and hillsides. (Director Loktev shoots the landscape with a weirdly abstracting telephoto lens, flattening the space to reflect the intimacy of the storytelling.) A vague menace hovers around our characters as they tromp down trails (their status as hikers unfavorably reminding me of those Americans who walked into Iran). Music on the soundtrack quickly cuts out, snapping the audience out of its lull like violence does to the characters: trouble finally comes in the form of a few local hunters, who provoke Bernal to commit either an act of instinctual self-preservation or of revealing cowardice. Either way, it’s shaming—and unsettling thereafter to all who were present.
Working off a Tom Bissell short story, Loktev explores contemporary gender roles—namely, the clash between our modern desire for equality and the vestiges of old-fashioned concepts about strong men and defenseless women. Furstenberg makes a show while hiking of refusing assistance when navigating dangerous areas, but such self-reliance seems put-on: outside civil constructs of Western society, she is at the mercy of the wild and its governance by might. This, I imagine, is why Loktev opens the film with Furstenberg naked—to highlight her vulnerability, not just to nature and man but also to fate: The Loneliest Planet stresses how single moments can disrupt our entire lives, whether it’s a car crash or a kiss. Whether these are tragedies or valuable learning experiences Loktev leaves ambiguous. The movie ends with the dismantling of a campsite: is it a metaphor for the dismantling of the characters’ lives, or for the packing up of their problems? Like the meaning of that central incident, it’s up to you.