MOUNTAIN — Review by Diane Carson

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mountain posterMountain surveys attitudes toward the world’s highest peaks. Director Jennifer Peedom’s documentary essay is as varied as the subject it tackles. From black-and-white archival footage of the first mountaineers to contemporary high-tech daredevils, the relationship between humans and mountains encompasses everything from awe to terror, triumphs to disasters, enthralled obsession to unfettered risk taking. While not in depth on any one element, this overall meditative, fairly solemn consideration delivers a moving tribute to nature and a provocative examination of individuals confronting our highest peaks.

Through occasional voiceover narration, Willem Dafoe’s mellifluous voice hits the right emotional registers as he narrates various attitudes and encounters—triumphant to disastrous. He notes, Mountains are so much more than a challenge or an adversary to be overcome. The spectacular selections reportedly draw from over 2,000 hours of footage shot in twenty-two countries, from Tibet to Australia, Alaska to Norway. In other words, some of the images are truly spellbinding, some very familiar to those of us who have watched documentaries on noted mountain climbers. Surely some of those shown here look stark, raving mad to be doing what they’re doing: ice climbers, free soloists, heliskiers, wingsuiters, parachuting mountain bikers, and daring snowboarders.

Australian Chamber Orchestra music accompanies most of the beautiful shots, adding emotional, interpretive orchestration, though at times it feels unnecessary, even intrusive. Occasionally, a critical perspective intrudes, showing the destruction of lovely locales for more ski landscape or invasion of some sacrosanct environments by thrill seekers. These moments are brief, and, on the whole, locations are not identified nor are the consequences of accessibility and danger evaluated.

Mountain is a visual exploration of gorgeous landscapes with the pervasive presence of people. As such, it provides more a visceral experience than any kind of analytical or narrative work, beyond the musings provided in excerpts of British mountaineer Robert Macfarlane’s Mountains of the Mind. Mountain will appeal primarily to those who love adventure and aren’t looking for a character-driven story—there is none. In a most apt observation, Dafoe says, The mountains we climb are not made only of rock and ice, but also dreams and desire. I can’t help but wonder what some of these men and women pursue, but these locations offer a gorgeous place to do it.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mountain is AWFJ’s Movie of the Week for May 11, 2018.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.