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LONELIEST PLANET, THE

SYNOPSIS:
An engaged couple - Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg) go backpacking in remote regions of Georgia's dramatic Caucasus Mountains, with a rustic guide, Dato (Bidzina Gudjabidze). It's an uneventful trek, but for one, short, odd and dangerous crossing of paths with a gun toting old man and a couple of young men, possibly his sons. The moment derails the mood and threatens to undo everything the pair believed about each other and about themselves.

Review by Louise Keller:
Perceptions change, expectations are quashed and disillusionment hovers like an ominous cloud in this fly-on-the-wall story about two lovers trekking through Georgia's Caucasus Mountains, in which a split second reaction to an incident changes everything. Based on a short story by Tom Bissell, the exploration that director Julia Loktev makes is one of nuance as the relationship between the couple goes from intimate and playful to awkward silence. The fact that their local mountain guide witnesses everything that transpires is an added element to the dynamic, searing the burden of additional weight and pressure to the situation. Curiosity triggers our interest at first, but eventually, the tedious nature of the drawn-out exposition is akin to watching grass grow.

We are told little about the two protagonists Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg), except what we observe. Bernal and Furstenberg are both excellent as they depict the two young adventurers, engaged to be married, and soaking up the experience of their adventure holidaying in rocky, mountainous terrain in Georgia. Embracing the simple life and exploring the region with nothing but a backpack and the intimate bond they share, when the film begins, Nica is naked and lathered in soap under a primitive shower that seems to have gone cold. Perhaps this is a premonition of things to come. Alex appears with a jug of water and rinses Nica's long auburn hair patiently and lovingly. They are staying in the house of some locals with children with whom there is happy interaction. There is more implied symbolism as Nica hangs by her feet gymnastically in an empty bus, while Alex looks on. They barter for a mountain guide, drink beer, listen to music, dance and the mattress squeaks rhythmically as he enters her from behind.

When they set off on their trekking adventure, walking through meadows, crossing streams, climbing rocks and navigating along a lonely mountain track with their local guide, they are the epitome of a united couple: loving, playful, adventurous. They delight in taking photos of themselves in the setting and listen to the amusing anecdotes of their guide, delivered in stilted English. The role of the guide is played by Bidzina Gujabidze, a Georgian mountaineer. Gujabidze is remarkably good; as we learn his backstory we understand and can relate more to him than we can to the couple. During the journey, Alex and Nica conjugate verbs, smoke by the campfire, and try to make out subtly during their solitary moments in their tent.

Then comes the incident, which I shall not describe but leave for you to witness for yourself and draw your own conclusions. During the second half of the film, the magic that had existed between Alex and Nico has been destroyed, the relationship changed inextricably as a result of those few moments that have made all the difference.

Cinematographer Inti Briones's hand-held camera brings a sense of spontaneity and the intermittent discordant sound of scratchy violins play un-melodic melodies. The background sounds of the wind, the rain, the crunch of boots on gravel and the gurgling of the streams fill in the gaps. There is little dialogue of consequence, which is why Gujabidze's revelations towards the end of the film make such an impact.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Filmmaker Julia Loktev really tries our patience with The Loneliest Plant; she seems able to make real time stretch so that what takes place over one minute in real life she can stretch to four minutes on film. Among the stylistic devices used is a fixed camera shot of landscape in a long shot, into which our three character trudge, usually from left to right, at about a quarter of the screen from the bottom. We watch them walk across the frame. Again and again.

Although short stories usually make terrific source material for films, in this case the adaptation suggests that this is not one of those instances. The single fulcrum of the action on which the story relies is so quick, so subtle and so insignificant in cinematic terms as to be valueless - well, not quite, but certainly not 113 minutes worth. Maybe 11.3?

But there are some highlights, including Bidzina Gudjabidze, the Georgian mountain guide, whose broken English and broken heart deliver first the film's edgiest and later the film's warmest moments.

A sparse, often frustrating film, it would be unfair to dismiss it entirely; Loktev's talent may be locked in for now, but she does seem to have cinema in her blood.



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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 1
Mixed: 1

LONELIEST PLANET, THE (M)
(US/Germany, 2011)

CAST: Gael Garcia Bernal, Hani Furstenberg, Bidzina Gudjabidze,

PRODUCER: Helge Albers, Marie Therese Guirgis, Lars Knudsen, Jay Van Hoy

DIRECTOR: Julia Loktev

SCRIPT: Julia Loktev (short story by Tom Bissell)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Into Briones

EDITOR: Michael Taylor

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Rabiah Troncelliti

RUNNING TIME: 113 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Palace

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: March 21, 2013







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