Mountain Image

You could compare Hollywood to an over-priced candy factory. One that dazzles in its splendor, but ultimately produces over-the-top variations of the same chocolate bar. A treat that gets less exciting every time you eat it; until you’ve had too much and have to be sick.

The film industry tends to follow a similar business model. It spits out new movies at an alarming rate, but when closely inspected the majority of these resemble nothing more than carbon copies of one another. The only variations consisting of the star power behind each motion picture.

If Mountain were a candy bar, it would be one that’s packaged differently, tastes delightful, and makes you ultimately crave more.

Directed by Jennifer Peedom, the documentary opens on a monochrome black and white sequence, featuring the beginning notes of an orchestra warming up. Peedom immediately gifts you with a behind-the-scenes look at the film’s action, as the camera focuses on Willem Dafoe in a studio, preparing to record the narration.

“I’m ready,” the internationally acclaimed actor says to someone off-screen. There’s a brief moment of silence, as time itself suspends in anticipation. The orchestra begins playing a reverberating note as the view switches abruptly to an explosion of color. The setting no longer a studio, but instead, a man clinging to a formidable mountainside.

Can you fill an hour and a half with jaw-dropping views of mountains, a superb orchestral performance, and spoken word poetry delivered by a narrating Willem Dafoe?

“…story drags on as Dafoe uses figurative language to spin a tale about the brief history of human v. summit…”

The answer is yes. You absolutely can.

Mountain is a slow-moving spectacle featuring astonishing landscapes paired with human accomplishment. It paints the mountain as both the magnificent protagonist in the story, while simultaneously the menacing antagonist. This documentary is a mythical spin on a topic you didn’t know you could be entranced by.

A few minutes in, and you’ll likely find yourself shell-shocked by the splendor of the landscapes in front of you. The moving orchestral music dramatically playing in the background only adds to the magnetism. At the same time, you’ll inevitably be wondering; where is this going?

The answer doesn’t present itself right away. Mountain’s story drags on as Dafoe uses figurative language to spin a tale about the brief history of human v. summit. Visually depicted through old mountain footage, this part of the film goes on for a beat too long. Is it beautiful? Without a doubt. Engaging? Not in the slightest.

Stick around though, because the narrative rapidly picks up once the documentary passes this dry mark. Perhaps Peedom felt it necessary to kick things off with a history lesson. Nonetheless, Mountain could do without this elongated sequence. Despite that, with patience, brings great reward when it comes to this love letter about Earth’s rocky peaks.

One of the most rousing parts is when the adventure element comes into play. Your heart will thud against your chest watching unidentified rock climbers tackle the very subject of this film. It gets all the more intense, for Mountain goes on to explore all the different ways in which humanity has become fascinated by these immensely treacherous landforms.

A man rides his bicycle off of a summit, kept alive by a single parachute. A skier flies off a snow-dusted ridge in a daredevil jump. The list of nearly impossible stunts continue, all captured by a rare cinematic perspective which spotlights the subtle beauty of all circumstances. If you didn’t know the name Renan Ozturk before, you will now.

“…the most rousing parts is when the adventure element comes into play…”

Cinematographer, rock-climber, and visual storyteller, Ozturk has the uncanny ability to string together a sequence of shots that physically steal your ability to breathe. In fact, thanks to his handiwork, all 74 minutes of this documentary plays like an other-worldly moving photograph. You’ll fight the need to blink while watching night and day pass over solitary mountain peaks in an exquisite time-lapse.

At one with the camera and adept at provoking mesmerizing moments, Ozturk communicates startling passion through his craft. He could make something as desolate as a landfill appear staggeringly irresistible. The artistry conveyed through one man’s mastery of a lens is the real star in this provocative piece.

The narration deserves praise as well. Derived from screenwriter Robert Macfarlane’s book, “Mountain’s of the Mind,” director Peedom collaborates with Macfarlane to redefine classic documentary prose into something refreshingly poetic. Willem Dafoe as our, “mountain guide,” is also deliciously pleasing. Still, the narration and script take a backseat to the views.

In all honesty, Mountain doesn’t need any words (sorry, Dafoe). The beauty captured speaks for itself. Admittedly, some parts may lose the viewer; at times, the message can come off as too much. Even so, what makes it unique is these artistic exaggerations.

Most impressively, what this documentary does is encourage a more stylistic take on topics explored in the genre. Mountain delves into the relationship between man and land, all the while gently reminding us that Earth, in general, is disinterested in the human race.

Mountain (2018) Directed by Jennifer Peedom. Written by Jennifer Peedom and Robert Macfarlane. Narrated by Willem Dafoe.

4 out of 5 stars

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