Santa Cruz Good Times

Saturday
Apr 19th
Text size
  • Increase font size
  • Default font size
  • Decrease font size

Miles From Nowhere

film theloneliestMinimalism diffuses potential power in psychological drama 'Loneliest Planet'

Less-is-more seems to be the prevailing philosophy behind The Loneliest Planet. In this exercise in narrative and emotional minimalism, Russian-born American filmmaker Julia Loktev has the nerve to go slow, revealing her story in tiny gestures, instead of conventional action or pages of dialogue. Audacious in design and intent, the film starts out like an adventure about a young couple on a backpacking holiday across an exotic landscape (the vast and splendid Caucasus Mountains in Russian Georgia). But Loktev uses her enormous canvas to zero in on the psychology of inner space as the couple discovers worrying secrets in each other and themselves.


But as intriguing as it often is, there are also drawbacks to Loktev's anti-narrative approach. She pretty much eschews dialogue, except for the most basic, inconsequential chat (there's only one scene where a character actually reveals something about himself verbally), and dispenses with any kind of backstory that might inform us who these people are, where they're from, or what they want. Loktev is trying to pare down extraneous stuff to focus on a singular brief, but oh-so-telling incident in the course of the story that ripples through the rest of the film.


As dramatic as that moment is, however (although underplayed in the extreme onscreen), it's not really enough to sustain our interest in a nearly two-hour film. Yes, things change; the course of the trip and probably the couple's future, along with their relationship to their guide, alter radically in just a few seconds. But it's a story that could best be told in about 30 minutes. Stretching it out to feature length implies a degree of universality that the sketchiness of the characters and our surface involvement with them never warrants.


Not surprising, then, that Loktev's film is adapted from the short story, "Expensive Trips Nowhere," by American journalist and travel writer Tom Bissell. Porcelain redhead Nica (Hani Furstenberg) and her fiancé, Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) have arrived in a small Georgian village to hike up into the Caucasus. They speak English to each other, although Alex, a Spaniard, is teaching Nica to conjugate Spanish verbs. The film opens in an atmosphere of strangeness, with the couple careening about with a bunch of children in the house where they are staying, and an elderly Georgian woman speechifying at them at great length in a language neither of them (nor us) can understand.


Alienation continues in small dollops as they hire their Georgian mountain guide (Bidzina Gujabidze)—whose services prove to be a bit more pricey than Alex was led to expect. Still, they set off together, the larky young couple (engaged to be married in a few more months) an their stoic, dependable guide. Nica insists she's strong, despite her delicate looks (we've seen her doing chin-ups in an abandoned bus), and the couple rises to every physical occasion on the hike up and up into the mountains. Right up to the moment when a brief, passing encounter with a trio of angry, armed men shifts the gears in Nica and Alex's relationship forever.


This moment and its powerful repercussions are interesting in what they reveal about human nature. But then the movie continues on and on in a random matter, as if it, like the characters, is searching for a way out. By the time Loktev finally sees fit to stop ("conclude" is too strong a word), ending with a whimper, not a bang, the power of that moment has been diffused in minutiae.


On the other hand, the Caucasus Mountains look glorious. As captured by cinematographer Inti Briones, their green rolling hills fill the frame, blocking out the sky, and often dwarfing the puny humans glimpsed like ants crawling across their surfaces. Mountaineers willfilm loneliest love the hiking footage, and scenes of, say, Alex and Nica drinking and dancing with the locals in a ramshackle bar on the eve of their trek will appeal to viewers bitten by the travel bug.


But two hours traipsing along in the wake of people who never even discuss with each other such a game-changing life incident leaves the impatient viewer feeling miles from nowhere.  


THE LONELIEST PLANET


★★1/2 (out of four)
Watch film trailer >>>


With Gael Garcia Bernal, Hani Furstenberg, and Bidzina Gujabidze.

Written and directed by Julia Loktev. An IFC Films release. Not rated. 113 minutes.

Comments (0)Add Comment

Write comment
smaller | bigger

busy
 

Share this on your social networks

Bookmark and Share

Share this

Bookmark and Share

 

Cardinal Grand Cross in the Sky

Following Holy Week (passion, death and burial of the Pisces World Teacher) and Easter Sunday (Resurrection Festival), from April 19 to the 23, the long-awaited and discussed Cardinal Cross of Change appears in the sky, composed of Cardinal signs Aries, Libra, Cancer, and Capricorn, with planets (13-14 degrees) Uranus (in Aries), Jupiter (in Cancer), Mars (in Libra) and Pluto (in Capricorn), an actual geometrical square or cross configuration. Cardinal signs mark the seasons of change, initiating new realities.

 

Sugar: The New Tobacco?

Proposed bill would require warning labels on sugary drinks Will soda and other saccharine libations soon come with a health warning? They will if it’s up to our state senator, Bill Monning (D-Carmel). On Feb. 27, Monning proposed first-of-its-kind legislation that would require a consumer warning label be placed on sugar-sweetened beverages sold in California. SB 1000, also known as the Sugar-Sweetened Beverages Safety Warning Act, was proposed to provide vital information to consumers about the harmful effects of consuming sugary drinks, such as sodas, sports drinks, energy drinks, and sweetened teas.

 

Film, Times & Events: Week of April 17

Santa Cruz area movie theaters >

 

Growing Hope

Campos Seguros combats sexual assault in the Watsonville farmworker community Farm work was a way of life for Rocio Camargo, who grew up in Watsonville as the daughter of Mexican immigrants. Her parents met while working the fields 30 years ago, and her father went on to run Fuentes Berry Farms.
Sign up for Tomorrow's Good Times Today
Upcoming arts & events

Latest Comments

 

Foodie File: Red Apple Cafe

Breakfast takes center stage at Gracia Krakauer's Red Apple Cafe Before they moved to Aptos, Gracia and her husband Dan Krakauer would visit friends in Santa Cruz County and eat at the Red Apple Café all the time. Then they moved up here from Santa Monica five years ago, and bought the Aptos location (there’s a separate one in Watsonville) from the family who owned it for two decades.

 

How would you feel about a tech industry boom in Santa Cruz?

I feel like it would ruin the small old-town feeling of Santa Cruz. It wouldn’t be the same Surf City kind of vacation town that it is. Antoinette BennettSanta Cruz | Construction Management

 

Trout Gulch Vineyards

Cinsault 2012—la grande plage diurne The most popular wines on store shelves are those most generally known and available—Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot, which are all superb for sure. But when you come across a more unusual varietal, like Trout Gulch Vineyards’ Cinsault ($18), it opens up a whole new world.

 

Waddell Creek, Al Fresco

Route One Summer Farm Dinner You’ve been buying their insanely fresh produce for years now at farmers’ markets. Right? So now why not become more familiar with the gorgeous Waddell Creek farmlands of Route One Farms?