There are times when those scared of heights are obligated, by reality, to face their nerves. Perhaps film is the best way, and there’s no better nor more real example than director Jennifer Peedom’s latest flight round the peaks of infamous mountains. Through Renan Ozturk’s picturesque cinematography and Willem Dafoe’s hard and loving narration (reciting from the 2003 memoir on mountaineering by Robert MacFarlane, who also co-wrote the script), we explore the sinister beauty of the world’s most intimidating mountains and their attraction for millions of daredevil climbers, bikers, skiers, and paragliders.
Mountain fades in with what appears to be a black-and-white featurette, catching a behind-the-scenes look at composer Richard Tognetti’s assembling orchestra and Willem Dafoe preparing to speak in a sound booth. Immediately, we realise this is not a story-driven documentary. The only characters are the mountains themselves, described as careless about the ambitious humans who do crazy and stupid things to prove themselves (“half in love with themselves, half in love with oblivion”).
Tognetti records the standard classical tunes needed to convey majesty (Vivaldi, Beethoven etc.), but also employs his own cutting compositions – many of which resemble a Bernard Herrmann soundtrack. Combined with the uneasy visuals, one initially feels comfortable to lie back and enjoy the scenery… before lurching up again when a mountaineer falls or as a wingsuiter clips the edge of a cliff.
There are times when MacFarlane’s poetry becomes a bit much, stretching metaphors to hilarious proportions and inserting alliteration that tries too hard to be profound. And despite Peedom’s intentions for a more symphonic piece of cinema (a sentence Dafoe would say pretty damn well), these insane adrenaline junkies would’ve been fascinating to explore in more detail. The viewer is only left with glances, the emotional potential left dangling over the mountainside.
But Mountain excels in its mission: creating an overwhelmingly visual documentary that explores the dangers of mountains and the human need to conquer and win. Acrophobics will gawp at the risky activities people are capable of doing, but won’t be able to look away. It’s too beautiful.
Mountain is released in nationwide on 15th December 2017.
Watch the trailer for Mountain here: