Loneliest Planet, The

Julia Loktec, the young writer-director of “The Loneliest Planet” is a talent to watch.  Her work is still little known, limited to the festival and art house circuit, but this may change after IFC releases her second, striking feature, a follow-up to “Day Night Day Night.”

Stunningly photographed and deliberately paced, the tale centers on a young romantic couple, beautifully played by Mexican-born international actor Gael Garcia Bernal (“The Motorcycle Diaries,” “Blindness”) and Hani Furstenberg.

Alex and Nica, a young couple in love engaged to be married, spends the summer before their wedding in the Caucasus Mountains in Georgia. To lead them on a camping trek, they hire a local guide , who turns out to be a bit tsrange, enigmatic.

The three set off into the wilderness Loktec shoots the landscape sequences in a magnificent mode that emphasizes their dual nature, their awesome overwhelmingly openness as well as their frighteningly closedness, which border on the claustrophobic.

As befits the minimalist narrative, long stretches of time are silent, with no words, but they are just as impressive and significant as the dialogue-driven sequences; in fact, it’s a feature in which every look, every gesture, every move matters.

Walking for hours, they trade anecdotes, play games to pass the time, but then a momentary misstep, a sudden gesture (which cannot be disclosed here) changes the entire course of events, the entire dynamics of the seemingly intimate bond, threatening to shatter and even undo everything that the couple believed about each other and about themselves. Unable to rely on one another, the wide-open wilderness suddenly seems completely remote, darkly forbidding, and alienating.

Loktev’s “The Loneliest Planet,” which world premiered last year at the 2011 Telluride and Toronto Film Fest before playing the N.Y. Film Fest and winning the AFI’s Juried Best Feature, has just been nominated for the 2012 Best Picture Gotham Award, along with Paul Thomas Anderson’s “The Master,” “Middle of Nowhere,” Wes Anderson’s Moonrise,” and Richard Linklater’s “Bernie.”

It took a year for the film to get theatrical release, but it’s worth seeing it on the big screen, for it displays the bold, audacious vision of a gifted director, who knows how to create and sustain tension throughout her narrative.  It’s hard to think of recent indie films that have put under the microscope a single relationship and dissect it with startling intimacy and rigorous attention to the smallest detail.  At the end of the movie, all these details add up to a powerfully emotional experience, replete of indelible visual images.