By: Henry J. Fromage (Two Beers) –
If you happen to be a fan both of globetrotting and movies, you’ve probably noticed by now the lack of films that properly convey what it feels like to travel on the cheap and off the beaten path. Basically, if you aren’t Hilton rich, you’ve probably never had a travel experience anything like what you’ve seen in the movies.
The only life lesson she learned was that Visa Platinum really is accepted everywhere
The Loneliest Planet captures that feeling like few films have. Alex (Gael Garcia Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg) are a young engaged couple traveling in Georgia (Europe Georgia, not Dukes of Hazzard Georgia), who hire a local guide, Dato (Bidzina Gujabidza) to take them on a trek through a remote mountain range. On this trip, they experience an event that will severely test and possibly completely change the dynamics of their entire relationship.
The very first scene of the film tells us a lot. We hear creaking and moaning before we see anything, and the first image is indeed a naked Nica, but she’s jumping up and down and shivering. Alex enters and pours hot water on her soapy hair, and the care he has for her, and their mutual attraction, romantic and sexual, is readily apparent. The other thing that jumps out at you is that they’re clearly somewhere far away from modern amenities.
The other, other thing is, “Damn, that’s one hell of a merkin!”
Basically, you’re entire setup is present right there. Furstenberg and Bernal display an undeniable chemistry, particularly since scenes like them cracking up at a well-hydrated hog have an unplanned feel that suggests that much of the film was unstaged and possibly unscripted. The film is a relationship drama first and foremost, but also qualifies as an excellent travel film not only due to its beautiful cinematography (aided by a gorgeous location), but its attention to detail. Small touches like jovial/awkward broken English conversations in the street, or small, dark local nightclubs full of innocent but unwanted attention, are par the course for young budget travelers.
All of this setup serves to lull you into complacency and set the stakes for the small event that provides the fulcrum for the plot. Director Julia Loktev does a great job sneaking this twist up on you, steadily building tension without you even realizing it, so when it hits, it hits with force.
That’s what I was expecting, too, but no.
After the twist, the many subtleties of Alex and Nica’s relationship are thrust into focus, and this becomes the source of fascination for the duration of the film. Loktev’s attention to detail and deft touch is not wasted on this subject, either. Every small gesture and facial expression of the two is magnified, the landscape of their emotions every bit as beautiful and treacherous as the mountains they’re hiking through.
There’s a bit of overdubbing of dialogue, especially at the beginning, which is an annoyance (and a nitpick). A bit more substantial is the film’s use of Georgian-influenced music. It’s good stuff, but is basically only used as a soundtrack to the hiking sequences, cutting out for the people-focuses scenes, then resuming afterwards, ad infinitum. It’s a bit repetitive and tedious, and once you notice it, distracting.
This film would have made my Top 10 List of 2012 in a walk if only I’d seen it. A stunningly insightful travelogue and relationship drama that never feels less than entirely real.
Take a Drink: every time Bernal or Furstenberg take their Georgian language for a spin. “Didi madloba!”
Take a Drink: whenever sex enters into the equation
Take a Drink: every time Furstenberg does something clumsy
Do a Shot: whenever Dato (the guide) makes a bizarre joke