Mountain: NZIFF Review
A sense of the political pervades Mountain, director Jennifer Peedom's love letter to the peaks that shape so many lives
A swipe against deforestation to feed our need for exhilaration, a rallying cry for the Sherpa placed under pressure, a comment against Everest's queuing congestion that goes against the spirit of exploration and the narcissism of the thrill seekers on the mountains, half in love with themselves and half in love with oblivion.
However, it's the very slightest of touches in this film which feels more at home on a Nat Geo outing despite its truly beautiful cinematography, culled from some 2,000 hours of footage.
Peedom demonstrated her chops with the wondrous Sherpa a few festivals back, giving time to the plight of the Sherpa who put their lives at risk for little reward from the thrill seekers determined to conquer Everest no matter what.
And while this collaboration with the Australian Chamber Orchestra deserves to be seen on the big screen, it's very close to Nature Porn set to a classical music background. Faceless peaks and nameless mountains populate the screen as narrator Willem Dafoe intones what it is that draws people to the mountains, and the challenges they present in a life where we've become closeted from nature.
In the same way that Toa Fraser's The Free Man attempted to dive deeper into the psychology of the mountains at this year's festival, Mountain is similarly at pains to paint a vista of placeless peaks that draw us in, with their allure. Using words from Robert MacFarlane to help create the picture, Peedom's film really does lack a narrative edge to make it an essential experience.
That said, if the thread is underdeveloped throughout, aside from the aforementioned swipes, the cinematography is astounding, and the sense of the spectacular is palpable.
Whether it's a series of slow mo shots of skiers cascading though ice like swarming ants on the way to their nest or stunning day/ night dissolves, the big screen simply laps up the very best of Mountain's visuals, with its vertiginous shots creating a sense of scale and of terrifying emotions to those not seeking the thrill. Equally, the ACO's work is perhaps the great companion to this piece and deserves to be appreciated as loudly as possible as it juxtaposes itself nicely to some of the images on screen.
Ultimately, Mountain is a nice visual essay, but despite the snow-capped vistas and stunning peaks, as well as some archive footage, it's deeply disposable fare - it's the visual equivalent at times of elevator music. Pretty to look at, but easily forgotten.