Wednesday, April 21, 2010

North Face (Rhoades)

“North Face” Is Powerful Ascent
Reviewed by Shirrel Rhoades

Some years ago I stood on a glacier in the Swiss Alps and looked out in the direction of the Eiger, that great monolith that challenges mountain climbers. More than sixty climbers have died attempting the North Face, earning it the nickname of “death wall.”

Known as “the great last problem of the Alps,” the 5,900-foot North Face of the Eiger was still unconquered back in 1936 when two German mountaineers decided to climb it.

Bundle up. “North Face” (or “Nordwand” without its subtitles) – a German film about this attempt – at is playing at the Tropic Cinema.

Based on a true story, we follow Andi Hinterstoisser and Toni Kurz (athletically portrayed by Florian Lukas and Benno Fümann) as they compete with teams of French, Italians, and Austrians to reach the top.

“You and I could be the first ones up there,” says brash young Andi.

“That’s not what climbing is about,” mutters his partner Toni.

“Yes, it is,” insists Andi. “That’s exactly what it’s about.”

You see, Andi wants to prove “what I can do and who I am.” While Toni asserts, “I don’t have to prove anything. I climb for myself … for me alone.” But that’s not entirely true in this case.

Luise Fellner (Johanna Wokalek) is the childhood friend who joins them at Grindelwald to take photographs for a Berlin newspaper, but her heart is on the mountain with Toni. “They’ll scale anything tall,” Luise says of her chums. “It’s all they ever thought about as kids.”

Ulrich Tukur (recently seen in “The White Ribbon”) is Luise’s boss. “Die-hard climbers die easier than you think,” he remarks, looking for a juicy story.

Maybe, maybe not. Experienced mountain climbers do die – as we know from reading books like Jon Krakauers’s “Into Thin Air” – but not easily. And this movie spends 2 hours proving it as we watch Toni, Andi, and two Austrian climbers fight the elements. Hands blackened by frostbite, beet-red faces, cracked lips, it’s almost painful to see them traverse the rocky edifice, dangling by a rope,

The contrast between the onlookers in the comfortable lodges below, observing the ascent by telescope, dining and partying while the climbers shiver and avoid avalanches, allows us to reflect on the life-and-death events that are unfolding on the craggy cliffs. It makes for tense, nail-biting suspense.

Director Philipp Stölzl is best known for his work in music videos. But there’s no music for the most part in “North Face,” just the sound of wind moaning across the face of the Eiger.

Historical sticklers may quibble with the small licenses taken in the film, but the facts are essentially correct. “The North Face”: reminds us that vainglory leads to tragedy.
[from Solares Hill]

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