Reviewed by: Jennie Kermode

"Ozturk's cinematography would be stunning even without such remarkable subjects, and the film is a visual delight from start to finish." | Photo: Courtesy of San Sebastian Film Festival

Mountains are difficult to capture on screen. That is, when filmed they can give viewers the chance to see truly fascinating locations which most of them will never have the opportunity to see with their own eyes, but for all the medium's magic, there is something about the sense of awe invoked when one stands beneath such colossal structures that cinema can only strain toward. Jennifer Peedom brings in the might of the Australian Chamber Orchestra to try and capture that missing element of grandeur in a film that is all about the senses.

Although this film explores a number of mountain-related issues, from geology to sport, there is no real sense of narrative. Instead we wander from peak to peak as directed by the flow of the music whilst Willem Dafoe gives voice to musings on what these strange landscapes mean. Parts of this narrative are painfully badly written but that isn't of major importance as you may well find yourself tuning out the words anyway. Dafoe's weatherbeaten voice is perfectly suited to these wild spaces and also complements the music well. It is never overly intrusive. Indeed, the film is so smoothly put together, so relaxing to watch, that there is a danger of viewers falling asleep. This not intended as a rebuke; it is never boring. Renan Ozturk's cinematography sees to that.

Ozturk has been climbing and filming for many years, and whilst some of the footage on display here has been freshly shot for the film, other material comes from his extensive archive. Peedom had one priority when assembling it: she wanted everything shown here to be new. Although some of it is similar to work featured in her previous mountain-set films, that's entirely appropriate - for instance when we take a moment to reflect on what this upper world means to the peoples who have inhabited its lower slopes for thousands of years - but the sheer range of different landscapes we visit is impressive and challenges what many people will assume about mountains. Along with the archetypal snow-capped peaks we visit towering cliffs topped with trees and long, sprawling red ridges. We also encounter strange territory in between the higher peaks, such as a massive field of rock spikes around 40 feet high that remember nothing so much as teeth, a lone climber arduously clambering across them.

Ozturk's cinematography would be stunning even without such remarkable subjects, and the film is a visual delight from start to finish. It sets out to explain why some people feel drawn to climbing mountains and succeeds in illustrating the appeal of jumping off them, with wingsuit-wearers and hang-gliders taking thrilling flights through deep gorges. There are also critical passages where it presents us with the throng of tourists now to be found around Everest, but the overall mood is one of positivity and a passion for the heights.

See this on as big a screen as you can.

Reviewed on: 09 May 2018
Share this with others on...
Documentary about the world's highest peaks.

Director: Jennifer Peedom

Writer: Robert Macfarlane, Jennifer Peedom

Starring: Willem Dafoe

Year: 2017

Runtime: 74 minutes

BBFC: PG - Parental Guidance

Country: Australia


SSFF 2017
London 2017

Search database:

Related Articles:

Scaling the heights