Intriguing ‘Loneliest Planet’ charts a couple’s relationship

“The Loneliest Planet” is one of those near-experimental features that refuse to dramatize their material in any conventional way, instead preferring to immerse us in long slabs of behavior.

Except for one sequence. And that central sequence makes all the rest of it work.

We won’t say too much about what happens halfway through the movie, but in some mysterious way you dread it, or something like it, from the very beginning.

We’re traveling with a young couple, Nica and Alex, played by Hani Furstenberg and Gael Garcia Bernal. They are bumming around the Republic of Georgia, backpacking it through a scenic and remote area. They hire a local guide (Bidzina Gujabidze) to lead them on a few days’ worth of hiking in the Caucasus Mountains.

Director Julia Loktev stages the walking scenes in a variety of ways, sometimes including dialogue that indicates how Nica and Alex are doing together, sometimes allowing the journey to play out in silence, sometimes filling the soundtrack with folk music.

The midway event changes the way Nica and Alex see each other. It also draws into question (not explicitly stated, but it’s there) what exactly they are doing together.

How deep is their commitment? How are they spending their lives, on this extended vacation to a less developed country? How serious are they about anything?

You will have time to ponder these and other questions, because the movie breathes along without conversation for much of its running time. And the guide turns out to be not just a third wheel whose odd manner can be laughed at, but a significant character in his own right.

I sensed the ghostly presence of the classic Ernest Hemingway short story, “The Short Happy Life of Francis Macomber,” hovering around the edges of this situation. Character is tested in this outing, in a way that nobody expected, and everybody involved needs to make up their minds on how they feel about that.

Whether or not they actually settle anything is part of Loktev’s design, as it is with many such recent films that prefer the immersive experience over telling you what conclusions to draw. Your patience with “The Loneliest Planet” will depend on how willing you are to accept that, and perhaps your interest in long, zen-like walks through foreign places.

“The Loneliest Planet” (3 stars)

An immersive (rather than dramatic) account of a young couple trekking with a guide through the Caucasus Mountains, and the single striking event that changes the way their feel about each other. Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg play the couple, and the movie charts their changed relationship in a way that is intriguing without telling you what to think about it.

Rating: Not rated; probably R for nudity

Showing: Varsity theater

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