Film Review: Mountain

Mountain is not quite a documentary in the formal sense (unlike Jennifer Peedom’s previous effort Sherpa). This collaboration between Peedom, the Australian Chamber Orchestra (ACO) and narrator Willem Dafoe is intended more as a study of awe and magnificence in the vein of a Koyaanisqatsi or Samsara.

While the likes of Koyaanisqatsi is concerned with life unbalanced and our destruction of the natural world, the beauty and terror here is simply in beholding the highest of the world’s peaks, via Renan Ozturk’s amazing cinematography, and watching as climbers and thrill-seekers try to make their way up them. A standard but sometimes breath-taking visual device involves a high-up view of a mountain, and a slow zoom or swoop in to reveal the puny people scaling it.

However, this strikingly cinematic piece is slightly compromised by Dafoe’s narration, a portentous series of often ominous ponderings written by Peedom and co-writer/co-producer Robert Macfarlane that explain very few specifics (except for the expected Everest exposition). They instead muse about curiosity, fate, our supposed need to conquer nature and the like. It’s all a bit wordy and florid, although Dafoe’s distinctive voice lends it credibility, and he’s helped greatly by the Orchestra’s classical soundtrack selections, including compositions from Grieg, Chopin, Vivaldi and especially Beethoven (the Piano Concerto No. 5 In E Flat Major). And, as the title declares, this is really all about the mountains.

With footage from some 21 countries (from Antarctica, Argentina, Australia and Austria to Switzerland, Tibet, of course, and the USA), this also rather intriguingly chooses not to offer subtitles detailing what peaks we’re looking at and where — except for the spotlight-stealing Everest. Perhaps Peedom and Macfarlane thought that adding labels would distract us from the mountains, and those who climb them and sometimes jump off them?

At any rate, this is certainly a film that needs to be seen and experienced on the big screen, and despite its minor flaws, proves quite a mountainous achievement.

Mountain is in cinemas now

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