The latest screening at Central DOCS Club – where newly-released documentaries are shown at Picturehouse Central in association with FilmSoc – featured Mountain followed by a discussion.
Alexandra-Loredana Petrache reviews Jennifer Peedom’s symphonic doc.
A gorgeous piece of cinematography. An ode to the mountains.
Beautiful imagery and score
Soothingly narrated by Willem Dafoe and bringing in the Australian Chamber Orchestra to perform pieces from the likes of Vivaldi, Mountain presents stunning, breath-taking imagery of people who aim for more: who test themselves, defy the norm and go in search of aventure. It also shows the modern reality of such sports, and of the people who try them in pursuit of not only the climb itself, but social media’s fame and adulation. The documentary scratches the surface of a whole universe of sports and sport-lovers, of madness and sanity, of will and strength, and shows the audience the thrills and perils that come with such ventures, without going too far into characterising the activities or associated risks. This is not meant to be an in-depth documentary about climbers, mountain-bikers or base-jumpers, but a serene piece of cinematography accompanied by good music. It will occasionally make you reach the edge of your seat but mostly it will induce a sense of wonder and worship towards the mountains. The music complements the footage perfectly – the beginning of the film comes into focus as a violin is being tuned. The sound weaves the metaphor of dizzying heights: we see climbers ascend over the crescendo of a violin, as a piano is subtly playing in the background, finishing off the metaphor of serene peace that accompanies the sport.
What Mountain succeeds at is showing both the exhilarating and the brutal: people smiling upon reaching their destination on the mountain, and euphoric spirits and cheers, but also bloody fingers, faces bitten by frost, tents filled with snow so cold it feels like a blade cutting the flesh down to the bone. Broken legs, twisted ankles, deep scratches, concussions, vertigo, pain, death. The price to pay for fleeting moments of sweet ecstasy.
Climbing a mountain: reward or plunder?
We keep talking of conquest when we speak of mountains and I’m not sure whether this comes from a sense of reward after the daunting experience that climbing can be or if it is sheer arrogance – do we really think we can outwit timeless (yet perpetually changing) rock giants? Is reaching a peak plunder or reward? Should we not talk of conquering ourselves, perhaps? Are mountains not just enablers for us to test our mental and physical strength?
The mountains can be a refuge for an ordinary living, an infusion of life, of raw, naked reality. It is a two-sided story: one of humility and one of hubris. On one side, we are glancing upon our condition and are reminded we are insignificant in this vast world. On the other, this sheer feeling of inferiority pushes us to overcome it, reach for the gods and prove that we are nothing less. And the fall will be all the more bittersweet knowing that, for a split moment, we were their equals and shared their world.
It is interesting how the film-makers decided to give the audience only a taste of the charm and seduction the mountains possess, instead of going for something with more substance and tackling concrete ideas about the sports presented or the more commercial aspect that now accompanies some of the sports presented. They focused on romanticising the antithesis between man and mountain, between ephemeral and long-lived.
Join us at the next Central DOCS Club screening on 8th January: see and discuss Walk With Me, a rare insight into the world of mindfulness and the Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh, narrated by Benedict Cumberbatch! Check out the Facebook event HERE.
Mountain premiered at London Film Festival on October 9th. Watch the trailer below.