Sometimes a movie, like a relationship, can turn on a single moment. When such a moment happens in the immersive drama “The Loneliest Planet,” it’s shocking and fascinating — and a great conversation starter for any couple who sees the film.
Director-writer Julia Loktev’s utterly absorbing film — adapted from a Tom Bissell short story — follows Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Nica (Israeli star Hani Furstenberg), an engaged couple on a backpacking trip through the Caucacus Mountains in the former Soviet republic of Georgia. The couple are very much in love and eager for an adventure together. They hire a local guide, Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze), for the long cross-country passage, and they become fast friends with him.
For a long period, Loktev and cinematographer Inti Brontes follow these three characters as they walk across Georgia. Sometimes the camera is tight on the characters, laughing and enjoying themselves. Frequently it pulls way back to show them as specks in the beautiful and unforgiving Caucasus landscapes.
Then The Moment happens.
I’m not going to describe The Moment, and frankly I’m nervous about mentioning that The Moment even exists — because now you’ll be tensed up waiting for The Moment to happen. The Moment is brief, and if you left for the restroom at the wrong time, you’d miss The Moment altogether.
After The Moment, the three keep hiking — and, on the surface, nothing seems to have changed. But when The Moment happens, it colors everything that follows and redefines Alex and Nica’s relationship.
That we can see the difference in Alex and Nica is a tribute to Garcia Bernal’s and Furstenberg’s performances. With Brontes’ camera sometimes right up in their faces, the actors create an intense intimacy that’s a thrill to experience. They also share a palpable sexual chemistry that fires up this drama.
Loktev, who also directed the microbudgeted suicide-bomber character study “Day Night Day Night,” asks intriguing questions in “The Loneliest Planet” — about trust and betrayal in relationships and how much we really know about the person closest to us. The exploration of that territory is as rough and as beautiful as a hike across the wilderness.
‘The Loneliest Planet’
An engaged couple’s walk through Europe covers some rough emotional territory in this fascinating drama.
Where • Broadway Centre Cinemas.
When • Opens today.
Rating • Not rated, but probably R for sexuality and explicit nudity.
Running time • 113 mins.