Mountain documentary review: the philosophy of peak adventure

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Mountain green light

MaryAnn’s quick take…

Dizzying and dazzling, this is a stirring meditation on the allure, the mystery, and the danger of the world’s highest summits, as places but also as ideas.tweet
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing
I’m “biast” (con): nothing
(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)
women’s participation in this film
female director, female coscreenwriter, male protagonist
(learn more about this)

Documentarian Jennifer Peedom follows up her marvelous 2015 film Sherpa with another, and very different, perspective on the most soaring elements of our planet’s geography. Mountain is a meditative contemplation on the allure and the mystery, the provocation and the danger of the world’s highest peaks, as places but also as ideas. The perceptive and poetic narration, written by Peedom and Robert Macfarlane and voiced by Willem Dafoe (Murder on the Orient Express), is full of beauty — the “siren song of the summit”; “the mountains we climb are the mountains of the mind” — and snark: show-offy extreme athletes who helicopter up mountains and snowboard avalanches down, for the Instagram likes and the lulz, highlight how we are “half in love with ourselves and half in love with oblivion.” And, indeed, there is much breathtaking and gasp-inducing imagery, such as people free-climbing sheer cliff faces without safety lines, and slow zooms in on tiny specks of climbers on mountainsides to demonstrate the vast scale of these geographic behemoths.

There’s an intriguing thread to the narrative that peters out too quickly, about how our cultural relationship to mountains has changed over recent history, from places to be afraid of and avoided to places we embrace and challenge ourselves in. But that’s a minor quibble… and there certainly wouldn’t be much in the way of historical visuals to match Renan Ozturk’s gorgeous cinematography, which is sometimes in stark and lovely black-and-white. Stirring music — by Australian violinist and composer Richard Tognetti, performing with the Australian Chamber Orchestra — helps to create a wonderfully visceral cinematic experience that thrills the senses and provokes the intellect. Mountain is dizzying and dazzling. See it on a big screen if you can.

Mountain is the Alliance of Women Film Journalists’ Movie of the Week for May 11th. Read the comments from AWFJ members — including me — on why the film deserves this honor.

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