by Jim Ridley
No less than the expert trailer above, Mike D'Angelo's review of Julia Loktev's The Loneliest Planet in this week's Scene has me more intrigued than any piece I've read in a long time:
Most films feature an instant in which everything abruptly changes for the protagonist(s) — what screenwriting manuals usually call the "inciting incident." Luke Skywalker finds his aunt and uncle murdered; Dorothy gets deposited in Oz via tornado; Mrs. Kramer walks out on Mr. Kramer, leaving him with their little boy; etc. An upheaval. Julia Loktev's magnificent new film The Loneliest Planet, however, may be unique in the way it pivots entirely on a single action lasting only a split second, occurring approximately midway through the narrative and cleaving it raggedly in two. It's not just that The Incident (as we'll call it) happens much later than usual — it also simultaneously alters everything and nothing. What happens doesn't push the story in a new direction. It's never once mentioned by the characters. It could conceivably never have taken place, except that its memory reverberates through every subsequent step.
Oh, right, the steps. Set in the mountains of Georgia — the country, not the state — The Loneliest Planet follows the hiking adventure of a happily engaged couple, Alex (Gael García Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg), who are evidently conducting a whirlwind backpacking tour of Eastern Europe, specifically seeking out the most remote and tourist-free locales. After finding a local guide (Bidzina Gujabidze), they set out for the Caucasus Mountains, and much of the movie's first hour consists of the trio walking.
If you're allergic to deliberately paced travelogues, this may be a deal-breaker for you, though Loktev does a remarkable job of keeping things interesting via precise compositions and offbeat rhythms. Alex and Nica share a playful rapport that tells us volumes about their relationship, and the landscape changes frequently and spectacularly enough to dazzle. What's more, it's clear something momentous lies in wait for these almost absurdly happy people, and the film milks this tension in the manner of the very best horror films.
Unfortunately, nobody can be told what The Incident is. You have to see it for yourself.
It opens tonight at The Belcourt. Maybe I'll see you there.