Extraordinary "The Loneliest Planet" Explores Sex and Gender Murkiness

The Loneliest Planet begins with a close-up shot of a beautiful woman, naked and trembling. It's not what it sounds like. Nica (Hani Furstenberg), on a premarriage honeymoon with fiancé Alex (Gael García Bernal) in rural Georgia, is in the midst of a makeshift shower. As Nica pogoes up and down to keep warm, her slim, androgynous body, doused in milky white soap suds, becomes a blur of motion. It takes a moment for the eyes to adjust, to register what we're seeing: Is this body male or female? Is this a mundane act or some strange, exotic ritual? With this, writer/director Julia Loktev sets up her extraordinary second fiction feature: She announces an intention to explore sex and gender murkiness and warns that this is a film that demands distraction-free contemplation. Loktev takes a painterly approach, crafting a study in colors — the vibrant green landscape, entire campfire-lit scenes registering as dances of shadow and warm flashes of skin — as she also charts the variable shades and tones of a single relationship. Within a scantily plotted, novella-style narrative (the movie is an adaptation of a short story by Tom Bissell), single shots become story events that mere mention would spoil. In a good relationship, you feel like you can survive anything the world throws at you. Loktev expertly trains her camera through aa fissure in such a bond and reveals an unshakable vision of the terror of facing the unknown without a guide.

 
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