Film Reviews

Director Jennifer Peedom's documentary essay "Mountain" 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 more than 2,000 hours of footage shot in 22 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, heli-skiers, 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. At Landmark's Tivoli Cinema.


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