Friday, January 29, 2010

north face ("nord wand") movie review

nothing put our east coast cold weather in perspective as fast as the blizzard conditions atop the eiger did this afternoon! i left the office early and went to see "north face" ("nord wand") at the landmark cinema. this is a decidedly different film - in almost every respect - from "touching the void." both are based on true stories, and both are survival epics (with stretching that term), but that's were the similarities end.

SPOILER ALERT: anyone truly interested in "surprise" should watch the film before reading this review. there may some who would like to watch the story unfold and not know the outcome beforehand.

first, "north face," is a period piece set in 1936 nazi germany. the climbers are motivated, in part, to be the first to solve the "last problem" - scaling the north (practically vertical) face of the eiger. it had been summitted previously, but from easier routes. they were also motivated in large part because nazi propaganda was looking for more german triumphs leading up to the olympic games. while the climbers are basically apolitical, it's occasionally difficult to divorce the action on the mountain from the events transpiring beyond it.

second, the climbers never reached the summit. that sad fact they didn't conquer the eiger doesn't take away from adventure, the incredible climbing sequences, or the panoramic vistas of the alps. the film builds slowly, and the suspense leading to the climatic decision to turn back is palpable! the mountain scenes are harrowing - from start to finish. the two teams (in reality, all four climbers were part of the same "team") are competitive with each other at the beginning of the climb, but things changed dramatically when it became a simple question of survival.

third, there is a weak series of subplots - the strongest of which was the relationship between toni (benno furmann) and luise (johanna wokalek). the non-climbing scenes centered on the media-circus like atmosphere at the hotel lodging the reporters and spectators at the base of the mountain. the juxtaposition of the gluttony and excess of the guests with the primitive conditions faced by the climbers on the mountain (and even their base camp tents) was a bit much. luise occupied that world of excess until she "crossed over" to the mountain - metaphorically freeing herself from that hypocrisy as she walked the train tracks!

fourth, even in the face of the reluctant decision to turn back, there was no positive outcome to the adventure. toni sensed this at the outset - as he hauntingly left his climbing journal with luise for safekeeping before setting off. solving the "last problem"took another two years and was accomplished by a different climbers.

in that regard, the only false note in an otherwise authentic film centered luise's "climbing" scenes - where she ventured onto the mountain (still, marginally believable because she had some climbing experience). it was an interesting sequence - especially since she seemed to be the only one pushing for any sort of a rescue effort! when it was clear they wouldn't reach the summit, the reporters and spectators lost interest - and left! and, ultimately, the final scene of the film was just too contrived for my taste. but that's a tiny cavil in an otherwise outstanding film.

"north face" is well worth going to see!

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