If you ever wanted a film that bridges the gap between the great documentary Touching the Void and a Warren Miller ski video, then Mountain may the film for you. Combining chamber music, Willem Dafoe narration, and some jaw-dropping imagery, Mountain attempts to muse poetically on the reasons why humans are drawn to conquering these natural wonders. The film is at once stunning to look at and infuriating to watch mostly because the film feels aimless and won't let the viewer get engrossed in the sound and images.
And what images they are. Cinematographer Renan Ozturk shot the film on several continents, capturing stunning vistas of the Alps, Andes, and Himalayas. Director Jen Peedom combines this footage with video from climbers, extreme sports enthusiasts, and others. Mountain is best when it trusts the power of these images and lets editors Christian Gazal and Scott Gray cut to the classical music to create visual poetry.
The issue is that this only happens part of the time. Most of the film features Dafoe's heavy-handed narration that tries too hard to be profound and often comes off as dull. The reason so many thrill-seek on mountains is a rich enough topic to sustain an 80-minute film. There is a nagging sense that Mountain would be best if it was cut in half and released as an IMAX exclusive documentary. The images deserve that huge canvas yet they are often underserved by the downright confusing messages the film makes through that narration. It wants to revel in the majesty of mountains but also glorify the daredevil antics that cause ecological damage.
I will tepidly suggest seeing the film in the theater only because some of the sequences are truly worth putting up with the lack of focus Peedom brings to the directing. Perhaps the best way to go is to bring your own music and headphones and simply bask in the visuals. Pretty images do not make a powerful film alone.