Cinema Review: Mountain | Under the Radar - Music Magazine
Monday, April 6th, 2020  


Studio: Greenwich Entertainment
Directed by Jennifer Peedom

May 14, 2018 Web Exclusive Bookmark and Share

The specific allure of mountaineering to some walks hand-in-hand with the same intense danger that repel everyone else; the jagged peaks singing a “siren song of the summit” that few hear, let alone answer. While the first recorded acts of alpine climbing are recorded as far back as the 1300s, it and other associated mountain sports did not truly begin to take shape until the 1800s. Jennifer Peedom (Sherpa) deconstructs the history of humanity’s collective obsession with mountains through a cinematic love letter to the “waves of stone”, teetering between the softly commentative and the deeply contemplative. Mountain is a uniquely stunning document, defined by its sublime beauty, cautious reverence, and musical resplendence.

A metacinematic opener showcasing the Australian Chamber Orchestra and narrator Willem Dafoe performing sound checks is vitalized by the quivering strings and echoing piano that will soon carry the film through its many awe-inspiring landscapes. Dafoe’s voice-over (excerpted from Robert Macfarlane’s memoir Mountains of the Mind) leads through the early days of mountaineering to the winter sports of the present day, though concurrently focusing on the simple natural wonderment of the titular geography. Human society and the natural world are contrasted, weighing the delights of conquering the dangerous terrain with the very real consequences of such pursuits. Though there are moments of direct commentary on the present state of mountain sports (“this isn’t climbing, it’s queuing”), it acts more as an archive of humanity’s love of the mysteriously treacherous.

Renan Ozturk’s cinematography easily makes the mundane into the majestic (who knew ski lifts could be so visually intriguing), possessing a phenomenally eclectic range covering the intensely personal to jaw-dropping spectacle. This is also made completely possible by Anson Fogel’s sweeping aerial cinematography. Richard Tognetti’s powerful original score moves like the tide, sloshing together a mixture of moods and styles, almost giving the beautiful mountain ranges a pulse. Christian Gazal and Scott Gray’s editing starts off a tad rocky, fumbling a few sequence segues, however it manages to blend the optical and melodic together so shockingly well, that it is hard to believe some of the musical pieces were not written exclusively for the final presentation of the film’s original imagery (several movements from Vivaldi, Chopin, and Beethoven are used).

“Those who dance are considered mad by those who cannot hear the music.” This phrase, which opens the film, perfectly defines what the experience will be; a beautiful, vertigo-inducing journey amongst the world’s highest peaks. Peedom has a seemingly intrinsic knack for manipulating expectations while giving absolutely no false illusions about her subject’s uncertain nature. Mountains are perilous, and they can kill you; but the experience surmounting the supposedly insurmountable is equal to nothing else in this world. The philosophical and the natural collide (much like in Werner Herzog’s Encounters at the End of the World) as the serene snow-capped peaks casts down avalanches and bone-chilling winds to deter some of the most ambitious of our adventure seekers, but yet they press on.

Mountain wonderfully contextualizes the appeal of exploring the remaining untamed landscapes of our world, and is a visually visceral reminder of what that will remain long after we have faded away.

Author rating: 9/10

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Average reader rating: 4/10


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