Toronto 2011 Recommendation: ‘The Loneliest Planet’

Tim Grierson
The Projector
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For fans of "Gerry," "Meek's Cutoff," "Contempt" and "The Puffy Chair" -- strange combination, I know -- keep an eye out for "The Loneliest Planet," the new film from "Day Night Day Night" indie director Julia Loktev. It's a simple story told quite well, and while its premise makes it seem like the setup for a horror movie, it's actually a romantic drama set against the Georgian wilderness.

The plot is easy enough to grasp: Recently engaged couple Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg) have decided to do some backpacking around the Caucasus Mountains. They hire Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze), a guide who knows the area well, and off they go. In the studio version of the movie, this is when our heroes discover their cell phones don't work and, uh oh, the mountains are populated by terrifying cannibals/snakes/zombies. But thankfully, this isn't the studio version of the movie, which means it's more of a quiet journey into the wild as Alex and Nica start off as a lovey-dovey couple until ... well, something happens.

The thing that specifically happens shouldn't be ruined, but it's so crucial to why the film works so well that I won't even bother trying to do a straightforward review here. Plus, because I got to "The Loneliest Planet" about five minutes after it started, I don't think I'm in the right position to fully evaluate its strengths and weaknesses. I hate getting into any movie late, but "The Loneliest Planet," because it's so dependent on its gradual revealing of information, requires one to be fully engaged from the first second.

With that said, though, this is one of the stronger, sneakier films I've seen at the festival this year. I think Loktev may oversell the film's elemental beauty a bit much, but the slow, sure development of the couple's relationship -- as well as Dato's impact on it -- is finely calibrated. As of now, "The Loneliest Planet" doesn't have a U.S. distributor, although you'd have to assume Bernal's involvement will help in that department. If it does come to your town, though, see it on the big screen: This is a film where you want its gorgeous, isolating backdrops to envelop you the way it does the characters.