The Geography of a Love Affair
In Julia Loktev's The Loneliest Planet, a couple (Gael García Bernal and Hani Furstenberg) from a first-world country (the United States) travels to a second-world country (Georgia) to experience nature (the Caucasus Mountains). This is not the sort of place the average American tourist sees as the ideal getaway—the poverty is bitter, the bars are dirty, the food is cooked on squalid streets, the men are always drunk, the women are always sad, the children are always loud, the goats are dumb, and the sheep are dumber.
After taking a bath in a cold shack, eating burnt chunks of skewered meat, and visiting a public transportation graveyard (rows of decomposing buses), the couple hires a guide (Bidzina Gujabidze) for a hike across the mountains. There is some Borat in this guide. His sense of humor has no polish, and his view of the world lacks sophistication (the Japanese can be trusted; black Americans are crooks). But there's some of Andrei Tarkovsky's Stalker in him as well. He is not guiding the couple through wild and scenic nature but, instead, to the spiritual twilight zone of their relationship.
The movie, which is slow and often silent, comes down to two things on two levels. One is at the visual level: the director's excellent eye for striking images (the rusty-colored rivers, the red hair in the water, the rocky landscape, the ruins at the foot of the mountains, the toes in the tent). The other is at the story level: One action, a thoughtless action, changes the entire course of the couple's lives. This action, which happens almost at the middle of the film and will catch you by surprise, reveals the true heart of one of the lovers. Once this heart is known, the future of the relationship becomes uncertain. The Loneliest Planet turns out to be the geography of a love affair. Varsity, Nov 2–8.