Review: Mountain

Mountain is a tonic for the eyes and ears, a unique collaboration with Sherpa director Jennifer Peedom and the Australian Chamber Orchestra with composer/conductor Richard Tognetti at the helm. This marriage of spectacular imagery with beautiful music is a big screen experience if ever there was one.

As the film opens, the ACO musicians take their places, Willem Dafoe steps up to the mic, and his gentle yet distinctive voice begins the story of humankind’s fascination with mountains, their ability to humble and inspire us.

At this point the stunning visuals begin and for the next 70 minutes we are treated to the extraordinary work of Renan Ozturk, an accomplished rock climber and crack cinematographer. The mind boggles at how he manages to position himself in vertiginous scenes that capture rock climbers scaling vertical cliff faces, and everything from wingsuit gliders to cyclists conquering great heights. And in an era where shaky cam infiltrates so much cinema, regardless of how little action is going on, Ozturk’s work is so sublimely smooth and crisp.

The fluidity of the camerawork and editing is wonderfully paired with a soundtrack performed by the ACO. From Chopin and Grieg, to Vivaldi and Beethoven, the musical choices are ideal. The rigour of Vivaldi’s Winter from The Four Seasons recalls its use in Force Majeure, bringing out the drama and menace of the snow covered mountains.

Tognetti’s original score is used to sew all the musical pieces together, creating a seamless aural experience.

Dafoe’s narration comes and goes, and although the poetic musings, written by Robert Macfarlane, add context, it’s easy to fall into a hypnotic trance by the music and visuals and not even notice the intermittent monologue.  

Taking in spectacular vistas in Nepal, Australia, Antarctica, Switzerland, New Zealand, Iceland, Chile, and many other locations, the imagery never fails to inspire awe. One particular scene in Utah, featuring an insane tightrope walk from a massive butte, has to be seen to be believed.

While Peedom’s previous film, Sherpa, covered some similar terrain geographically, Mountain is a completely different experience. Although she touches on the plight of the Sherpa’s briefly here, and there is a critical observation of the mountaineering industry, for the most part Peedom refrains from political statements and instead delivers a pure celebration of mountains and the power they hold over us. No doubt the third film in Peedom’s loose trilogy, on Tenzing Norgay, will see a return to the themes she explored in Sherpa.

For now though, be content to enjoy the sensory delights of Mountain, a considerable technical and artistic achievement.


Mountain is now in national release

Richard Leathem @dickiegee