‘Life is the sum of all your choices.’ ‘“ Albert Camus.
One’s life is not necessarily defined by the events that take place during the time one lives, but is instead defined entirely by the choices that he or she makes from day one. Be it the smallest of decisions, say what one eats for dinner, or larger choices in a choice of spouse, whether to procreate, or the like, a life is a collection of choices.
That is, at its core, what defines the new film from director Julia Loktev, The Loneliest Planet. Starring the pair of Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg, the film follows the story of a recently engaged couple as they attempt to backpack through the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia. Without seemingly any point behind their excursion, they decide to go ahead and hire a guide to help them in their travels. However, after the occasional joke or esoteric conversation (such as the teaching of verb conjugation in Spanish led by Bernal’s Alex character), one barely-second-long choice changes everything entirely. The film’s tone changes, the narrative, and ultimately the relationship between our two leads even change, thrusting the film into something entirely different. Thrusting it into the realm of pure-blooded masterpiece.
Alex (Bernal) and Nica’s (Furstenberg) relationship is palpable and full of vitality. Starting their journey firmly in pre-wedding post-engagement honeymoon mode, the two are full of charisma and chemistry, appearing for all intents and purposes firmly in love. However, following a choice made in a moment of haste by Alex, the entire film does a disorienting 180. It’s a moment that is just a matter of seconds. However, as proven by this film, even the smallest of moments can change lives forever. Bernal is particularly great here, as, when the moment does in fact occur, you see the realization pop directly on his face. Furstenberg is equally fantastic and truly the revelation of this film, as her unconventional beauty and her skill inside of Loktev’s patented long takes is absolutely thrilling.
Loktev herself is superb here. Shooting the film with as fluid a camera as you’ll see outside of a Terrence Malick film, Loktev takes the wide open valleys and stark mountain landscapes and instead of making the couple feel alone in the world, they feel almost crowded by one another. A truly claustrophobic watch for the viewer, The Loneliest Planet is an absolutely thrilling meditation on life, love and how both are driven entirely by the choices on makes. An existential picture, the film posits that while you think you may know someone, know them enough to make the ultimate plunge, there are always things that will come unexpectedly.
Based on a short story by writer Tom Bissell, the film is as much a masterwork of acting and directing as it is of every other cinematic craft. The screenplay is top notch, giving the viewer insight into enough of the couple and their life as to feel right at home alongside them, and Inti Briones’ cinematography is as lush a bit of photography as we’ve seen all year. Toss in a lively soundtrack, and you have one of the most superb and evocative cinematic experiences that this calendar year has to offer.
A subtle and existential meditation on the human experience and how one’s choices effects it, The Loneliest Planet is a starkly beautiful film that looks at a newly wedded couple that could be any couple out there. Similar conceptually to the ‘couple-on-their-first-voyage’ masterpiece L’Atalante, Loktev’s film attempts to, instead of encapsulating the journey of a couple through life, is an attempt to prove that each moment within that journey is important and impactful. And boy, are they full of impact.