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Friday, November 2, 2012 - Page updated at 10:00 p.m.

Movie review
'The Loneliest Planet': Couple goes on a gripping yet elusive trek

By A.O. Scott
The New York Times

We never learn very much about Alex and Nica, the young couple (played by Gael García Bernal and Hani Furstenberg) at the center of "The Loneliest Planet." As cute as a pair of kittens and obviously in love, they are backpacking through Georgia — the former Soviet republic — a few months before their wedding. Their interactions are playful and tender. Where they live, what they do for a living, the quality of their ideas — none of this is especially relevant.

Alex and Nica are thus somewhat paradoxical creatures, at once specific and maddeningly abstract. "The Loneliest Planet," directed by Julia Loktev, is rigorously committed to a particular kind of minimalism. Loktev is highly attentive to physical detail. She also ruthlessly purges her movies of the kind of psychological expression and narrative exposition that most filmmakers depend on.

The title evokes a series of guidebooks popular among adventurous travelers, and Alex and Nica, setting out for a hike in the Caucasus Mountains with a local guide named Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze), seem to fit that profile. They are daring and carefree but not especially reckless.

Every step carries a premonition that something might happen, a sense of foreboding. Something eventually does happen, but the specifics don't necessarily matter. What matters is the effect of the event on Alex and Nica. The episode — which lasts a few seconds and is never spoken of afterward — might just be a crazy story they will tell at their wedding, or something they'll fight about later, or forget about entirely.

Their isolation from each other, from us and from Dato is part of the point of the film, which is (speaking of paradoxes) aggressive in its subtlety. It is gripping and haunting but also coy and elusive.

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