As an atmosphere piece, The Loneliest Planet succeeds at exploring the minutiae of life but it’s lack of story doesn’t justify it’s length.
The film is actually quite simple. Before their wedding Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg) backpack through the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia, along with local guide Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze). It’s a film of very little dialogue.
The first half consists of Alex and Nica wandering around a small town in Georgia, mostly just passing the time and meeting locals. It’s all beautifully shot, but without much dialogue and very little action from the characters, it’s hard to really know who they are and, therefore, care about them.
The set up is clear—Alex and Nica are in love and enjoying their trip. The specifics of who they are as individuals, how they met, their hopes, their dreams, etc., are never divulged but the two look and act as if they wouldn’t want to be anywhere else in the world. That soon changes, ever so slightly, once they set across the mountains with Dato.
Much of their hike involves getting to know Dato, and vice-versa, and mainly just passing the time drinking at night and a lot of walking during the day. When they come across other locals, a split-section decision by Alex will change the mood for the rest of the trip. It’s after this incident that the film becomes more involving as the dynamic between the three slowly unravels and morphs. But there’s just too much set up to get to this moment.
At nearly two hours, the journey can be fun but without ever really knowing who these people are, it can be tedious. If anything, it just makes one want to travel to Georgia and be there with the characters. In terms of story and development, however, it can drag.
Still, it’s to writer/director Julia Loktev’s credit that she can stretch out a film with minimal plot to that length and still make an interesting case for it. The cast is uniformly excellent, especially Bernal and Furstenberg, who create an exquisite realism and come off as a real couple. The film, at its best, feels like it’s peeping in on these two and just documenting their journey. That’s great, but something more is needed for the audience to care about who they are and what they want.
Rating: 3 out of 5