…vows

The Loneliest Planet (2011) Dir.: Julia Loktev

Julia Loktev explores the issue of cheating. She provokes us to answer the question at which point it happens.
MAJOR SPOILERS!

Cheating is a physical act. Loktev proves that physical contact initiates cheating. On the surface, Alex (Gael García Bernal) & Nici (Hani Furstenberg) are soul mates. They share hopes and dreams. They are getting married soon. But before they tie the knot and exchange their vows, they wanna see the world. They travel through the wilderness of Georgian mountains, going where no tourist dares to go. For this reason, they hire a local guide, Dato (Bidzina Gujabidze). Being no ordinary tourists, the couple is fascinated by the scenic views of valleys, rivers, mountains. They eat fresh cumin and drink crystal clear water straight from the fountain. Nearly, heaven on earth. Their intimacy is presented as both beautiful and natural. They enjoy their bodies. There’s amazing chemistry between them. Yet, the unpleasant incident when Nici falls into the river turns the tables. It is Dato who saves her, getting her out of the cold water. The sexual tension rising between them has its peak with their passionate kiss at the end. However, cheating is not a single act, it’s a process. Thus, the kiss itself is merely a culmination of this process.

Cheating is a mental act. It starts with a thought. On the surface, Nici and Alex seem to think and want the same things. They have visited many places around the world together. They want to experience as much as they can before settling down. They don’t talk much. Their communication is in between the words. And when they do talk, they teach each other things. For example, Alex teaches Nici Spanish, helping her with irregular verbs. They stimulate each other intellectually. Nearly, a perfect relationship. Yet, the traumatic incident when a local villager points a rifle at them shakes things up. Alex’s first reaction is to hide behind Nici — it’s automatic, almost like a reflex. Now, she feels she no longer can count on him. Luckily, Dato has control over the situation, calming the armed man down. It is Dato again who saves her. Loktev shows how Dato proves to be a real man (however stereotypical & gender-biased it sounds) and Alex a failure in the eyes of Nici. Once more, cheating turns out not a single act, but a process. Thus, the life-threatening situation triggers this process.

Loktev showcases how complicated and intricate cheating is. Whether we agree with her worldview or not, she sees it as a combination of emotions and physicality. It is something that builds up over time. At the same time, she is far from moralizing. She is not judgmental. She doesn’t quench our thirst for what happens next. She doesn’t deal with the consequences. It’s a different area. She focuses on the process and on the subtle changes in the relationship during this process. That’s both Loktev’s strength and weakness. As long as we read between the lines, her message becomes clear to us.

Long days, pleasant nights,

Veronica Bazydlo

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