One of the year's most original and emotionally profound movies masquerades as the tiny story of a young couple who take a backpacking trip in the Caucasus Mountains the summer before their wedding. Alex (Gael García Bernal, subtle and deep) and Nica (Hani Furstenberg, shimmering with delicate strength à la Jessica Chastain, in a great breakthrough performance) delight in being open to what the world has to offer, as well as to each other. They're vibrant and adventurous and very much in love. As they trek with their local Georgian guide (played by esteemed real-life mountaineer Bidzina Gujabidze), indie writer-director Julia Loktev (Day Night Day Night) alternates between observing the couple in intimate close-up and from a powerful middle distance. While the viewer admires the sweep of the dramatically stark landscape, the trio look like insignificant human specks upon the earth.
Much of The Loneliest Planet is wordless, a collage of visual and aural sensation assembled by a 42-year-old filmmaker with a strong, mature artistic sensibility. Every scene shift contributes vital information about what it means to guide or be guided over foreign territory, both emotional and physical. But blink and you'll miss the small passing moment that has the potential to upend everything Alex and Nica know about each other, and about themselves. Exploring the ends of the earth, this amazing movie suggests, can't outrun the loneliness within each human speck. (Also available on VOD Oct. 30) A