Mountain: In thrall to indifferent mountains

This is my review of Mountain directed by Jennifer Peedom.

Stunning photography – was it made with the aid of drones or intrepid helicopter pilots? – reveals the stark beauty and vast scale and complexity of landscapes most of us will never be able to see close at hand. Time lapse photography to show clouds moving to obscure huge peaks, the plethora of stars in a night sky free from pollution, white valleys rising and falling as the snow builds up and melts, add dynamism to landscapes we may previously only have seen in static pictures. Suddenly one realises that two dots in a vast expanse of ice are in fact human- mountaineers planning an ascent. Then, with nail-biting tension, we see rock climbers high up on sheer faces, hands bare as they feel for invisible finger-holds, apparently unroped and alone. Footage of skiers weaving down near vertical slopes through trees, or surfing avalanches; mountain bikers hurtling along narrow winding ridges hundreds of feet above rocky valley floors; a tight-rope walker suspended between two pinnacles above a void, all capture the addiction to the adrenalin rush which must drive some to risk their lives for an experience which they cannot really share with the “normal world” from which they must feel disconnected on their return to it.

Accompanied by some freshly composed atmospheric music and beautiful classical pieces, Dafoe’s commentary – sometimes needlessly overblown – traces the short history of mountaineering, since for centuries local people treated high places as the land of gods and devils, to be avoided by ordinary mortals. We see clips of some of the intrepid C19 travellers who began to explore the mountains, totally under-equipped by our standards. The ascent of Everest triggered the growing stream of climbers, assisted by technical aids, often swinging from their belts like a kind of ceremonial metallic skirt, who now form a snail-pace queue up to the world’s highest peak.

This film is a totally absorbing work of art, with many memorable scenes and will appeal not only to mountaineers but people like me who are terrified of the idea of climbing but fascinated by the scenery and why people risk their lives in this pursuit. Yet I agree with the reviewer who would have liked more information on the location of the shots with a little cultural detail e.g. on prayer wheels and flags, explanation of some of the equipment used, the identity of some of the historical characters and events shown. As it is, the film assumes perhaps a little too much prior knowledge.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ 4 Stars

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