North Face

North Face is a captivating thriller about the race to climb the previously unclimbed North Face of the Eiger Mountain. It is a story of bravery, tragedy, persistence and redemption, set in the times of European unrest and international quest for faux victories. The movie is as much a tale of survival in the harshest of conditions as it is symbolic of the stark human contrasts of virtually any period.

The movie, voiced in German and subtitled in English, follows the story of two young and capable mountain climbers belonging to the German army in 1936. Toni Kurz (Benno F├╝rmann) and Andi Hinterstoisser (Florian Lukas) belong to the mountains and cannot turn down a challenge when it comes to climbing. When the "the last problem of the Western Alps" - the north face of the Eiger mountain, comes calling it isn't long before Andy and Toni make their way to the mountainside. Braving the unpredictability of Alps weather, the two set out with a second pair of Australian climbers - Willy Angerer (Simon Schwarz) and Edi Rainer (Georg Friedrich) - following in their footsteps. The first day they two pairs are able to cover a lot of ground, reaching to more than halfway to the summit. But soon, the fickle weather returns as a raging storm, dumping snow, triggering avalanches and flinging around anyone that is not secured tightly. When a slip causes one of the Austrian pair to break his leg, the remaining three have no choice but to head back down. When they realize that going down may be a lot harder than coming up.

Tales of survival are by definition brutal. But hanging by the side of a sheer mountainside, with nothing but steel nails for safety and a bitterly cold snowstorm raging all around, brutality takes a whole new meaning. You will be glad you are sitting on a couch instead. Several times during the movie I caught myself thinking, "But why don't they just...?", before realizing that there is nothing I could be telling them from a warm couch that they wouldn't already have thought of. And it is this helplessness that comes through with searing clarity throughout the movie.

The story is simple, and presented with minimum fuss. The screenplay thankfully stays out of sight, instead supported by an unbelievable cinematography. The scenes are so up close and personal, there is not a single moment when you feel out of touch with the travails of the intrepid adventurers. You shiver through the howl of the wind, feel the thud of cakes of snow and ice falling down the mountainside. You almost feel every tug in the rope, every crunch of a foot settling on ice and pebbles on an inch-wide ledge, and the stiffness in the limbs because of over exposure. And the camera misses no opportunity to swing out and show you the perspective of the climbers - the unending abyss falling straight down into what seems like another world.

The movie takes a while to get you invested in the characters. Somewhere in there is potentially an unfulfilled love story. And there are underlying socio-political layers to the story too. But once the climb begins, everything else fades away. What you are left with is human spirit and endurance going toe-to-toe with a 13,000 foot behemoth. And you cannot help but join the climbers and pray that they are not the first ones to blink.

January 17, 2011

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