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'The Loneliest Planet' is a tough slog, even for art-film lovers

Posted 3:56pm on Thursday, Dec. 13, 2012

Unrated; 113 min.

There's no getting around it. Though it's not without virtues, The Loneliest Planet may try the patience of even the most dedicated lovers of art film.

Essentially, we're watching two backpacking young tourists, and their guide, trek for several days through the spectacular terrain of the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia. That's almost all there is to it. Sometimes the walkers chat, but there are long stretches of silence, and frequent shots in which the characters are specks dwarfed by this otherworldly landscape.

The tourists are an adorable and highly amorous couple (Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg), weeks away from their planned wedding. The somewhat older guide is a rough-hewn local with a limited command of English, which doesn't prevent him from telling a few amusingly off-kilter anecdotes. (He's played by Bidzina Gujabidze, a real-life mountaineer.)

Time passes here like it does in an actual extended walking tour. We don't know much of the characters' backgrounds; we just pick up what we can from their conversation. About halfway through the story, an event abruptly takes place -- it's just a few seconds in duration -- that shines a different light on the young couple (and perhaps the guide), and casts a pall on the rest of the walk.

Writer-director Julia Loktev (Day Night Day Night) employs a strategy common in minimalist films, that of constant withholding, both of information and emotion. That strategy can backfire and leave the viewer wondering if the film isn't being evasive instead of elusive.

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-- Walter Addiego, San Francisco Chronicle

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