Substantial passages of Julia Loktev's turgid relationship drama “The Loneliest Planet” play like watching grass grow — or more to the point, watching three people hike across that grass in ponderously slow long shots. The story of young engaged Americans hiking across the Caucasus Mountains in the former Soviet republic of Georgia pivots on a horrible, spontaneous lapse of judgment, but then Loktev lets all the tension out of the situation.
To be fair, what happens between Alex (Gael García Bernal) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg) is a shocking and emotionally ugly incident that points out a fatal flaw in the relationship. This is a case in which a long, boring adventure saved one member of this couple from making a terrible mistake. But the problem with “The Loneliest Planet” is that Alex and Nica are barely known before the incident, and Loktev never lets her characters truly process it beyond extended periods of pained silence.
The only character who gets fleshed out is Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze), the middle-aged local guide whom Alex and Nica hire after a night in a dank rural disco. His presence creates another layer of tension, but his fairly interesting background is only introduced well into the second hour of the film. Alex and Nica are mainly characterized by overly twee, cutesy fawning — at least until things go suddenly sour.
With her big eyes, open face and shock of fluorescent fuchsia hair, Furstenberg is an obvious focal point for Loktev, but the director seems to prefer almost anything else to developing her characters or letting them respond to the inciting action. She periodically pulls back for long shots of the travelers, ambling far away on grassy mountains, possibly to show how alone they are or their insignificance amid all this landscape. But the viewer can only infer these things, because “The Loneliest Planet” is so rambling and willfully obscure that it utterly fails to make a point or create a case for caring.
— George Lang