Saturday, January 30, 2010

Nordwand: The Eiger Movie

For Hollywood-style mountaineering films that are both A) reasonably accurate and B) good entertainment, I can think of Touching the Void and, ummm...that's it. Now I can add Nordwand ("North Face") to the list. Last night I saw the German-made film about the famous 1936 disaster on the north face of the Eiger, and it's an impressive reconstruction of state-of-the-art prewar mountaineering and, at times, a nail-biter.

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.


Clyde said...

Did you see The Beckoning Silence, Joe Simpson's film about the same event on the Eiger? Quite well done but more a of a docudrama than a Hollywood piece.

Haliku said...

I had similar thoughts after seeing it last night in Golden. Overall a good movie, draining, but with the slight issues you mentioned. It was well worth the price of admission. Cheers!

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Steve said...

I've always been a fan of German filmmaking, and this one looks pretty interesting! I'm a fan of a great aesthetic feel. I actually work with, and during the Superbowl we have a commercial out that's pretty good quality. I want to share it with you all here first before anyone else sees it! Check it out!

Blue Alpine said...

I'll have to queue this one up on my Netflix. You'd think with the technology today, Hollywood could make some damn good mountaineering movies.

Get Out More said...

Thanks for posting this, will definitely have to check this one out!



Mountain Route said...

Nordwand (North Face) - the movie

This is a great movie so run at cinema and watch it!

PS: This movie is not only for those who love climbing, is for all audience.

trailer and a short decription you found here

Shanda said...

I agree that the romantic fabrication detracted from the story, but I thought the climbing sequences were awesome. I wasn't aware of the transition from real scenes to movie sets, so they must've done a good job.

This film MUST be seen on a big screen, NOT on a regular TV.