An ambitious work that is often breathtaking yet also falls short.



This documentary by Jennifer Peedom is hugely impressive visually. She has a special interest in films related to mountaineering and until now has been best known for the much applauded Sherpa (2015). However, there is no doubt that Mountain, shot in colour and 'Scope, takes on a stature all its own when it comes to footage of this kind. It contains many scenes that can only be described as awesome and it positively cries out to be viewed on a cinema screen, the bigger the better.


Yet, for all that, Mountain is a strange beast that seems uncertain of itself. In the credits it is specifically described as a collaboration between Robert Macfarlane (who provided the words heard), Renan Ozturk (the main photographer) and the Australian Chamber Orchestra (its conductor and violinist Richard Tognetti also provided those parts of the film's music not taken from existing compositions). This wording is consistent with the film's publicity notes which indicate a unique aim: the production of a film in which images, music and words are in balance so that all three contributions are equally crucial to the experience offered.


Nevertheless, what we see is something different from that and cuts across Tognetti's assertion that in finding the right classical music (it ranges from Vivaldi works via Beethoven concerti to Grieg's Holberg Suite and pieces by Arvo Pärt) he wanted Beethoven's music to be heard uninterrupted and believed that the narration should not be allowed to damage the integrity of the music. Macfarlane's narration, spoken by Willem Dafoe, is, in fact, the weakest element here and is far too persistent and, yes, it does frequently obtrude over the music. Early on Peedom incorporates some old footage to enable her film to comment on changing attitudes to dangerous climbing, but the grandeur on display seems paramount and some of the hazards are unexpectedly suited to accompaniment by Vivaldi. Later, however, a couple of songs clash with the classical music, just as a section criticising commercialised mountaineering takes on a tone so different that it seems to belong to another film. As it builds to an apotheosis, one is aware that much here is very remarkable and, despite the obtrusive commentary, the music does make its own impact with the recorded sound almost having the feel of a live performance (the music was recorded in 7.1 Surround Sound). Nevertheless, as a whole Mountain not only fails in its declared aim but lacks real cohesion. Even so, if you miss it you are passing up what is for much of the time a stunning visual experience.




Featuring  Willem Dafoe (narrator).


Dir Jennifer Peedom, Pro Jennifer Peedom and Jo-Anne McGowan, Screenplay Robert Macfarlane and Jennifer Peedom, Ph Renan Ozturk, Ed Christian Gazal and Scott Gray, Music Richard Tognetti.


Screen Australia/Stronger Than Fiction Films/Camp 4 Collective/Sherpas Cinema-Dogwoof.
74 mins. Australia/USA/Canada/Germany/UK. 2017. Rel: 15 December 2017. Cert. PG.