Saturday, January 30, 2010
First, the climbing. In the mid-1930s, German and Austrian alpinists were probably the best in the world, and I was fascinated by the equipment, clothing, and techniques, which, to the best of my knowledge, the film depicted quite accurately. The gear and methods seem astonishingly primitive compared with our high-tech tools and bombproof-anchor-at-all-times mentality. Yet these climbers could pull from their full bag of tricks pendulums, reasonably sound belays (when they chose to use them), and free-hanging rappels. The climbing footage is convincing, and the weather and avalanche scenes are harrowing. The bivouacs look truly miserable.
For me, the storytelling worked well until the last 30 minutes. Just as the drama reached its peak, some niggling aspects of the film started to become outright annoying: a couple of overdrawn characters, an intrusive love interest, and an excess of melodrama in scenes that were plenty dramatic on their own. When Toni Kurz's on-again-off-again girlfriend ventures onto the face and climbs to within a few feet of him as he nears death, I thought, "If she can get up there, why can't the Swiss guides join her and throw him a rope?" And then came a truly awful line that I hope was just a flub of the subtitles translator. I won't give it away, but a third of the audience broke into laughter during a scene that should have been evoking anguish and tears.
To their credit, the filmmakers didn't give this tragedy a Hollywood ending. I walked out of Nordwand drained, and though I could annoy my wife with my typical post-film analysis of the movie's faults, its rich evocation of 1930s mountaineering will stay with me much longer than its foibles. Click here for U.S. screening info.
Posted by Dougald MacDonald at 7:57 AM