Thursday, October 25, 2012

Minimalism du jour: Julia Loktev's THE LONELIEST PLANET opens in New York

"A film you will never forget," trumpets a critic used in the current advertisement for this new film. He's right. I'm certainly not going to forget a film that made me angrier than any I've seen all year (maybe in this whole new millennium). Its maker, Julia Loktev, shown below, made a stir a few years back when she gave us Day Night Day Night, another minimalist movie that at least had a hook: Terrorism. Its protagonist might or might not be going to blow up part of New York City. Even that did not make the movie as interesting as it ought to have been, but it did keep your eyes on the screen and your mind engaged, off and on, for 90-odd minutes. Ms Loktev's new one THE LONELIEST PLANET, minimalist-unto-empty, does not begin to manage even that, and it goes on for an unconscionable nearly-two-hours.

Exactly one single event happens in this entire movie, somewhere around midway, as I recall. The event is a humdinger, all right, a game-changer, a truth-teller, a turning point. But while it surprised me, I quickly realized that I didn't give a shit because I had no idea in hell about the character of the people involved in the event. How can this be, since there are but three main characters in the entire movie and we spend almost our entire time with only them? I'll tell you. Ms Loktev has no idea whatsoever about how to create full-bodied characters. This was true of her first film, as well, regarding her main character (all others were mere satellites), but the suspense of that character's intention carried us along.

Her three characters here are a young couple, soon to be married, and the guide they've hired to lead them around the Caucasus Mountains of Georgia. (I am told that the mountains are beautiful, but, as filmed here, they look like an exceptionally boring and repetitive landscape. And I won't even go into the dismal "look" of the night scenes.) Since we spend so much time with these three people, you'd think we might learn something about them, either by way of dialog or by watching all the tiny little bits of human behavior add up. Dream on.

The movie has very little dialog (neither did her earlier film, so I suspect Ms Loktev is not that adept at writing it) and what there is proves so extraordinarily mundane and character-free that I suspect that me and you and everyone we know (to quote a much more interesting filmmaker, Miranda July) could spout more specific and thoughtful verbiage in our sleep. This couple could be anyone at all, or more likely nobody at all, as folk this boring and character-free probably do not exist in our world.

Sometimes, if we're lucky in bad movies, strong actors can skirt lousy dialog and empty screenwriting. Not here. Gael García Bernal (above, right) is certainly a competent actor, but his perfor-mances tend to rise only to the level of what he's given, so expect little of him here. His co-star, Hani Furstenberg (above, left, from the Israeli films Yossi & Jagger and Campfire) seems likewise at sea so far as character is concerned. These two do what they can, which is simply to exist and bore us silly. The camera is often kept at a discreet distance, which holds us further from these people.

The third wheel, that guide, is played by Bidzina Gujabidze (above, center) in his first film endeavor, and he comes across as a less sensual and interesting Luis Tosar-type. He and Ms Furstenberg share the second best scene in the film, in which something actually, or almost, happens, and then, back to very little once again. Human beings are curious, inquisitive creatures, and the fact that no one would discuss the event that happened earlier in the film -- at least, why the initial event that inspires the reaction happened (I am willing to believe that these characters might be too embarrassed to discuss that reaction) is but one clue to the immense failure of this film.

Of course it is easier to leave out the more difficult and problematic. To the untutored eye and mind, this may make your movie look bold and uncompromising. In reality this withholding is just a cheat. And withholding on the kind of mammoth level that The Loneliest Planet achieves makes the movie a con game of epic proportions -- which has taken in, I must say, a number of our critics. The movie, from Sundance Selects, opens this Friday, October 26, in New York City exclusively at the IFC Center and hits VOD just four days later on October 30.

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