With only a documentary and two narrative films to her credit, Julia Loktev has nonetheless established herself as one of the most talented American directors of her generation. Her first feature Day Night Day Night followed an ambivalent suicide bomber around Times Square. Her second feature, The Loneliest Planet, continues in a minimalist vein but expands its scope. It features three characters: a Mexican man (Gael Garcia Bernal) and his American fiancee (Hani Furstenberg) traveling across the country of Georgia with their local guide (Bidzina Gujabidze). Planet, which opens October 26 at the IFC Center, often feels like a placid travelogue, particularly in its first half, but a sudden moment of danger changes the characters’ relationships forever. We spoke to Loktev about gender roles, the importance of casting, and how much she borrows from Hemingway.
Do you think your background as an immigrant has informed your work?
Definitely. In the case of this film. It influenced it because I have a personal connection to Georgia. I’m not from Georgia, I’m from Russia, but there’s a common Soviet past that we have. For me, it was a very natural place to shoot because I could communicate with everyone over 20 by speaking Russian. The younger generation don’t speak Russian, but the older generation do.
The narrative of The Loneliest Planet pivots around men trying to protect women and often failing. Do you consider it a feminist film?
It’s a hard question to answer. I do consider myself a feminist, but not in a reductive sense. I think being a feminist means thinking about the complexity of gender roles. In a way, the film is about a desire for simple gender roles. To me, the contradictions there are interesting. It’s about how confusing it is to be a man. I don’t know if it’s about the failure of gender roles. To me, that’s oversimplifying it. I think it’s more about the confusion of American and Western European men. Georgia is a place where it’s very clear what a man should be. Sometimes that makes things easier, I have to say. I was afraid I would be accused of making an antifeminist film. The kind of feminism that’s important to me allows for these contradictions. A friend of mine was doing a TV interview in Russia and got asked “Is it true that American women get angry if you open the door for them and can sue you if you offer them flowers?” His response was putting his head in his hands.
Is your video art connected to your narrative films?
I try to think of pieces project by project. The connections emerge later. I haven’t been making much work in an art context lately. The most recent one was an overnight performance in Toronto during “Nuit Blanche.” I filmed people coming in to audition and crying. It’s called I Cried for You. Over the course of the night, from dusk to dawn, 50 different people attempted to cry for me. Crying is almost treated like an athletic accomplishment among aspiring actors. Some of them list on their resume: “horseback riding, drives a stick-shift,
Was it hard to direct a nonprofessional actor within a cast of only three people?
It was an absolute pleasure directing Bidzina Gujabidze. We had so much fun. He’s a professional mountaineer. He knew how to move in this space. He’s playing a character, not himself, but he brought a lot of his knowledge to the part.