Wednesday, January 30, 2013

The Loneliest Planet (2012) - Directed by Julia Loktev

Toward the end of the year I had come across a few really nice reviews of Julia Loktev’s The Loneliest Planet. It also just so happens that it was playing On-Demand, which for me, living in Kalamazoo, MI is a really nice opportunity to be able to see hard-to-find films like this. I wish this opportunity would be made for other films as well. Go ahead and charge me admission price for the film…..I just want access to it. Loktev’s film has a freshness of ideas that I find really rewarding, even though I know that for many people, watching this film would be a near interminable experience.

Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg play Alex and Nica, a couple that is soon to be married, but who are on a 3-day backpacking trip in Georgia (the Georgia in Asia that is). The film literally drops us into the film with no context provided. It appears that at least one of them has connections to the culture there, but no real explanation is given that I recall. They hire a local man to be their guide on their hike. They proceed through a scenic stretch of the Georgian mountains that would take anyone’s breath away. What the film examines is whether our couple really KNOWS each other and how do they handle crisis. Through the journey of the film, they will encounter a few moments that will call their roles, loyalties, and commitments into question: foremost I feel the film examines communication (both of the verbal and non-verbal variety); the traditions of male/female roles, equality and expectations; and also whether in our modern world these expectations are still relevant or should be relevant.

Loktev’s approach here is much in line with minimalist cinema. I draw on comparisons here to Chantal Akerman, Bela Tarr, Gus Van Sant, and more recently to the works of Kelly Reichardt. Barring a few examples, I really like the minimalist movement and generally find these films to be energizing and moving experiences. If one does not take to films like these that I mentioned, then perhaps one may not like The Loneliest Planet either. Loktev’s film takes the framework of this cinema, but certainly examines new elements and adds her own eye and perspective to this type of work. There are topics, shots, and sequences here that I don’t feel like I’ve ever seen in cinema before, from the jarring opening images, to the debate of chivalry, which is inherent to this film, to unique perspectives on certain moments (the sex scene which is almost disguised as not a sex scene at all, to the scene of illness outside a tent, to playing ball with someone invisible behind a fence), to the fantastic cinematography, which incorporates those vast swaths of green and gray of the mountainsides, punctuated by Fursternerg’s wild mane of red hair. Something here feels alive and vital. Even though there is barely any sequences of true dialogue, there is also a great deal of character development. It all requires effort on the part of the viewer to seek it out and examine it as you watch.

I’m not going to try to convince anyone of the virtues of this type of film that is not inclined to it in the first place. It is not easy to convince anyone that watching people walk silently across a landscape is something to be enjoyed. What I really love is the texture of it. It’s the texture and feeling of the present, being with these people on this journey and thinking through the ramifications of what is happening to them and why. I enjoy the thinking while I am watching and not being TOLD what to feel or HOW to feel it. There are literally no signposts here that cue anything. For the most part, key moments that occur are never discussed. In fact I think it’s completely possible to miss certain moments here and thus fail to register the full impact of what the film is about. Maybe this is a fault of the director? Maybe this is a fault of the viewer? I cannot say. What I enjoy is the active viewing and thinking. This is a film that of course will divide viewers by its very nature. But it is that nature in particular that I am so fond of. 


Sam Juliano said...

Jon, I am no big fan of Reichardt's work, but I did think her WENDY AND LUCY was a notable achievement. I did once hear her speak at the Angelika Film Center, and she's quite an intelligent and fascinating listen. As far as the recent spurt of minimalist cinema I've been about 50/50, so certainly I may like this particular film. You are not the only one who has praised it, and I do like the general idea here and have admired Bernal's past work. Hope to see it soon.

Once again you have penned an exceptional essay, this time in passionate defense.

Jon said...

Yes Sam thank you for chiming in here. It is very hard to say where one will fall with regards to appreciation of this film. There are some who really like it and others that despise it. Certainly a critically divided film for sure. Hope you do check it out and let me know what you think.