Julia Loktev's favorite storytelling device is ambiguity, which was clear from her last effort, the disappointingly vague if at times gripping "Day Night Day Night," about a fledgling terrorist. "The Loneliest Planet" expands her visual palette exponentially, and, though she seems to still believe less is more thematically, Loktev works this idea much more smoothly into this narrative. Following a fateful hiking expedition in the country of Georgia, she explores how quickly trust can dissolve and how terrifying such a loss can be.
Gael Garcia Bernal and Hani Furstenberg (who bears strong resemblance to Julie Delpy) are cast well as the central couple, Alex and Nica, who seem to be happy, carefree, in love, and in sync. They acquire a guide, Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze), who's prone to rambling monologues but pretty knowledgeable. It seems like all is set for a couple fun days in the Caucasus Mountains, but it turns sour when Alex makes an alienating move. After that, everything feels undone, and the two have an entirely different relationship. It's debatable whether the event at the film's center is quite as significant as all make it out to be, but it's not that implausible, and the implications it arouses are thought-provoking.
But the primary reason this all works is the fascinating style that Loktev employs, which is heavy on depth-of-field experimentation and spatial awareness. Aside from a grating motif that pairs wide landscape shots with a heavy-handed cello track, the film achieves a striking look and feel, both laid-back and intense when it wishes to be. Pitching the dialogue down in the sound mix, this is a film that relies more on the noises of nature and the expanse of the terrain. These things make it well worth seeing, even if Loktev isn't quite as ambitious with where she takes her plot. B
And then there's Rick Alverson's abysmal "The Comedy." Which I couldn't find any discernable reason to watch more than 40 minutes of. It bears no resemblance to the "Tim and Eric" brand it seems from a glance to to be cut from, featuring Tim Heidecker in an incredibly unlikeable role. I tried in vain to find it funny, but the only original, not entirely abrasive element was the inspired use of William Basinski's "The Disintegration Loops" in a scene undeserving of its grandeur. But this movie is terrible, and made me unhappy. I would probably have headed for D-/F territory had I finished watching it.