After the press screening of The Loneliest Planet at the New York Festival, program director Richard Peña moderated a Q&A with director Julia Loktev and Hani Furstenberg, who plays the confused and wronged lover of the film. The pair discussed filming in Georgia’s Caucuses mountains, creating the background for the characters in the film and exploring the emotional fallout of the film’s central “incident”. You can read my review of The Loneliest Planet here.
After the screening, most viewers were struck and impressed by the film’s cinematography and use of real locations. Loktev says that the film “could have taken place anywhere,” but notes that she always planned on exploring “the myth of Georgia” in the film. To her, the area “looks like a sci-fi landscape” and she was able to exploit that changing topography in the film. The mountainside has fields, hills and barren rock passages, “as if a golf course had exploded on a mountain.” Despite the beautiful surroundings, Loktev “didn’t want to make a pictorial landscape film.” Although the area is very open and freeing, her and her cinematographer Inti Briones had a rule to never show the entire sky in a shot; only a sliver of the sky could be seen, in order to make the surroundings feel more restricting as the film progresses. “I’m very specific about composition,” Loktev explains.
In choosing the leads for the film, it was important to Loktev that the two characters had a history and background together. “I didn’t want this to be about Americanness,” she says. She cast Israeli-American Hani Furstenberg and Mexican Gael García Bernal, and although she liked each performer, she needed to be sure that the pair could work together. Loktev told a story about the time the two actors first met. She created a scavenger hunt for them, and the pair bonded as Loktev lurked nearby with her camera. Furstenberg mentioned that she was free to create her character using looks and gestures, but that “Julia’s vision was very specific” and there was not much improvisation.
The chemistry of the two actors becomes very important in the second half of the film, when a split-second decision causes their relationship to strain. Loktev calls this central incident “a contradictory moment beyond analysis.” Though she describes herself as a strong, independent woman, the moment in the film represented “the feeling of a woman still wanting to be protected by her man.” The rest of the film, which takes place that same day, was meant to explore the couple’s “awkward dance” of reactions that follows.
The Loneliest Planet will play at the New York Film Festival on October 1st and October 4th.