It should not come as a surprise that Julia Loktev's The Loneliest Planet is based on a short story. It all turns on a single, startling and horrifying moment. Whether you sense it coming or not, just about everything prior in the film sets it up, and everything afterward reacts to it. Critics have split on whether they have the patience for this story. Some love the tension and the implications of the revelation, and others find it drawn out and consequently formulaic. Unfortunately, to say much about the moment risks robbing a viewer of the pleasures of this film's suspense.
Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg) are engaged to be married and they set out hiking with a guide in the Caucasus Mountains in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia. The scenes of the mountains and lush valleys are stunning. It's rugged territory and the climate isn't always hospitable. As the trio treks further, the sense of isolation from the rest of the world becomes more pronounced.
Alex and Nica are happy together and swept up in their romance. The question is how will they react when far from their normal and safe lives they get a sudden and unexpected view of other sides of themselves.
I found the build up of suspense slow but compelling. The incident at the center of the film is stark, but I also think more could have been explored afterwards. The film takes enough time to get there, it should delve deeper into the aftermath. Long scenes with just the sound of rushing water and sliding rocks build the sense of isolation in the first hour, but too little is said in the end. A short story often ends just after the moment of revelation. This film goes on, and some of it also is stark, but some viewers will want more than Loktev gives.
The New Orleans film Society and Chalmette Movies screen the movie at the theater at 7:30 p.m. Monday and Tuesday.