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Toronto 2011. Julia Loktev's "The Loneliest Planet"

Loktev's second feature will be riding into the New York Film Festival on a wave of glowing reviews.

Let's start with New York's Logan Hill, who reminds us that "Brooklyn director Julia Loktev's Day Night Day Night was a taut, paranoiac Rorschach thriller about a mysterious woman with mysterious motivations who straps a suicide vest to her chest and takes the subway to Times Square. Her latest film is even more willfully abstruse but just as unsettling. Gael García Bernal and newcomer Hani Furstenberg play fiancées [Alex and Nica] on vacation in the harsh landscape of Georgia…. They're living the backpacker's dream, dancing in club's with strangers, grinning dumbly in response to foreign tongues. Then they meet up with a haggard tour guide of grizzled features and morbid humor (the magnetic and bizarre Bidzina Gujabidze), who takes them off into the mountains on an isolated hike."

"And then something shocking happens — it's not fair to say what this game-changing event is, but, then again, Loktev never makes it clear what it signifies, nor is it ever discussed between Nica and Alex." Cinema Scope editor Mark Peranson: "We move to a place beyond language, reminiscent of Antonioni or the Van Sant of Gerry, where the stunning backdrops of the Georgian countryside transform from emblems of freedom to looming clouds of doom, with Richard Skelton's haunting music providing an appropriate backdrop for hikers being dwarfed by landscape. Keen observers will also notice a slight change in the camerawork" — earlier, he's offered "big kudos to Chilean cinematographer Inti Briones, who worked repeatedly with the late Raúl Ruiz" — "plus the framing, with scenes of all three protagonists together: their couple has become in essence a threesome, with fates intertwined, and support needed more than ever…. The Loneliest Planet is a memorable evocation of a relationship and a haunted place, intertwined."

"The movie opens with the most disarming image I've seen at the festival thus far," notes Karina Longworth at Voice Film. "A body, naked but doused in milky white soap suds, pogoes up and down, feet creating a violent drum beat against an unseen platform. With the body's slender build and the velocity of its motion, for awhile its difficult to tell if we're looking at a male or female, an adult or a child. For me to reveal how that ambiguity resolves would spoil the visceral, breathtaking power of the shot. This is a problem which one who has seen Loktev's arresting feature faces again and again in trying to describe it to someone who hasn't. Within Loktev's scantly plotted narrative, single images become spoiler-worthy events."

Loktev's "true sensitivity lies in how she gauges Bernal and Furstenberg's relationship before and after THE THING THAT HAPPENS," writes the AV Club's Scott Tobias. "A more overtly provocative director would have tried another tack — I know exactly how Bruno Dumont might have handled it, for example — but Loktev's discipline here is remarkable."

"This would make a perfect double bill with Kelly Reichardt's Meek's Cutoff," suggests Michał Oleszczyk at Fandor. "[B]oth movies focus on guided forays into the unknown, and both strip the characters’ identities bare, only to reveal how brittle their assumptions about themselves were to start with."

Interesting that two of the films referenced for comparison come to Tim Grierson's mind as well. At the Projector, he recommends The Loneliest Planet to "fans of Gerry, Meek's Cutoff, Contempt and The Puffy Chair — strange combination, I know."

Filmmaker's Scott Macaulay has five questions for Loktev.

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