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The Loneliest Planet (#110 of 2)

New York Film Festival 2011: The Student

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New York Film Festival 2011: <em>The Student</em>
New York Film Festival 2011: <em>The Student</em>

The Student, the debut feature of Argentinean filmmaker Santiago Mitre, is the kind of film that demands an audience’s close attention. But it’s not demanding in the same way as other New York Film Festival selections such as The Loneliest Planet, The Turin Horse, and Once Upon a Time in Anatolia—all films that require viewers to be alert to crucial narrative, thematic, and/or emotional information conveyed almost entirely by images. Mitre’s challenge is on the level of plot and dialogue. In his film, he throws us into the down-and-dirty world of Argentinean politics, at least as encapsulated within a college environment, and expects us to keep up with the various twists and turns of his plot, not always bothering to make specifics comprehensible for a wider international audience. As the film mostly depicts various negotiations for power and control, Mitre’s film ends up being a relentlessly talky affair, with dialogue delivered with the speed of an Aaron Sorkin screenplay.

New York Film Festival 2011: The Loneliest Planet

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New York Film Festival 2011: <em>The Loneliest Planet</em>
New York Film Festival 2011: <em>The Loneliest Planet</em>

If nothing else, The Loneliest Planet, the second fiction film from Russian-American filmmaker Julia Loktev after her 2006 female-terrorist chronicle Day Night Day Night, is a terrific example of a minimalist style employed with near-maximum effectiveness. Here is a film that needs only offhand bits of dialogue, carefully worked-out mise-en-scène, precise editing, long takes, and strategically placed close-ups and camera pans to draw us effortlessly into the emotional dramas of its three main characters. Loktev further challenges us by basically throwing us into her scenario in media res and thus keying us from the start to pick up on details—visual, aural, or otherwise—to help us get our bearings. This is the kind of filmmaking that uses utmost economy of means to sharpen our senses and attune us more carefully to the people and the environments Loktev presents to us—an approach that dares to take an audience’s intelligence seriously, at least as far as an audience member’s ability to read images goes. Whether the destination is worth the sometimes elusive narrative journey is the real question. I suspect, in the case of The Loneliest Planet, the answer will depend entirely on what a viewer perceives that journey to be.