Jennifer Peedom’s Mountain contains some truly breathtaking imagery, but it reduces the sublime wonders of the peaks to mere daredevilry.
In this collaboration between Peedom – whose previous Bafta-nominated effort Sherpa explored similar territory – and the Australian Chamber Orchestra, dramatic footage of climbers, skiers, mountain bikers and base jumpers treating their lives like playthings is set to a greatest hits playlist of music by Beethoven, Vivaldi, Ärvo Part and others. But while the images astound, particularly when drones and helicopters are involved, Mountain doesn’t have the intellectual or emotional reserves to last the journey.
Speaking over shots of snowy summits and glacial lakes is the crisp, deep voice of Willem Dafoe, who reads out extracts from Robert Macfarlane’s award-winning 2003 book Mountains of the Mind. But while Macfarlane’s book explored in detail changing Western attitudes towards mountains over the centuries, Peedom only briefly touches on the historical, cultural and psychological aspects of our fascination with the great heights.
Instead she quickly hones in on a very particular sort of interaction with mountains, extreme sports, ignoring other more contemplative and nature-based – some might say more profound – forms. This means that despite Dafoe’s profound murmurings about “this strange force that draws us upwards” Mountain feels more like an expensive YouTube video or North Face advertisement than it does a proper cinematic essay. Beautifully shot, slow motion footage of Sherpa villages and ancient religious rituals also comes across as pseudo-spiritual, addind to the impression of style over substance.
The film’s unsuccessful attempt to offer both a thrilling adrenaline rush and a profound meditation on humanity’s relationship with mountains is unfortunate given how good the cinematography is. Director of photography Renan Ozturk does a phenomenal job with the technology at his disposal to produce images that deserve to be seen on a big screen, including Caspar David Friedrich-esque peaks shrouded in mist, fiery rivers of lava and rip-roaring avalanches.
But in making her film about those strange individuals willing to risk everything for a hormone rush, Peedom fails to speak to those of us who are drawn to mountains for rather different reasons.
Maximilian Von Thun | @M3Yoshioka