By Don Simpson | April 18, 2012
Director: Julia Loktev
Writers: Julia Loktev (screenplay), Tom Bissell (short story)
Starring: Hani Furstenberg, Gael García Bernal, Bidzina Gujabidze
Alex (Gael García Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg) hire Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze) — a Georgian guide — to lead them on a backpacking expedition across the Caucasus Mountains. From there, minimalist director Julia Loktev allows The Loneliest Planet to unravel organically with long scenes in which the three hikers hike…and hike…and hike across minimalist scenery. Naive (and presumably privileged) travelers from the Western world, Alex and Nica will soon be married in the United States; other than that, we know very little of their personal histories or ethnic backgrounds (the only expository dialogue is delivered by Dato). As far as we can tell, Alex and Nica are hopelessly in love with each other; but then, [to quote a line from a book that Nica reads aloud] “at a sharp turn in the road, a huge chasm opens up…”
The already quiet film turns practically silent. The audience must rely upon non-verbal communication in order to have any understanding of what the hell is going on. (We know that Nica is repulsed by Alex because her lovestruck gaze from the early scenes has transformed into one of burning disdain.) But, despite its minimal use, language does play a major role in The Loneliest Planet. The three characters are unable to communicate in their native languages — Dato’s is Georgian, Alex’s is Spanish, and Nica’s is never disclosed — so they must compromise and speak in thickly accented English. (Whenever Georgian and Spanish are spoken, the dialogue is left unsubtitled, placing the audience in the same position as the other two characters.) The three characters are foreigners to each other due to linguistic differences, and they must shed a major part of themselves to be able to communicate with each other (in other words, they even become foreigners to themselves).
The severely isolated Caucasus Mountains is a lonely place for Nica. Not only is there no escape, but she must continue to rely upon Dato and Alex for the duration of the journey. There is no one else to guide her (not even a Lonely Planet guide) and the Caucasus Mountains are obviously not a safe place for a woman to wander alone. Male aggression surrounds her, so Nica’s best bet is to continue onward with the two men with whom she is fatefully stuck.