Month: November 2009

Duel au Sommet


Philipp Stölzl :: Germany, Switzerland, Austria :: 2008 :: 2h

Two young provincial army recruits in an early Nazi Germany, are challenged to climb up the Eiger. The mountain had never before been successfully scaled from the north face (Nordwand) and it would have been the perfect introduction for the showcase 1936 Nazi Olympic games in Berlin. While the propaganda machine waits in a five star hotel next to the mountain, the competing teams go up.

The advancement of the climbers Toni (Benno Fürmann) and Andreas (Florian Lukas) dangling from the icy rock is cut-up with scenes from the extravagant hotel down below, where we also find Toni’s childhood love Luise (Johanna Wokalek), as the aspiring (photo-) journalist. She is there with her Berlin boss, who oscillates from charming to Nazi and back again throughout the film. The contrast between the ostentatious luxury of the hotel life and the harshness of the mountain works beautifully, most of the time, although the real strength of the film is mountain photography.

Not only is the daunting steepness of mountain wall impressively portrayed, the unpredictability of its ascent is too. The men against the elements, with their frozen woollen mittens and home-made pegs give a taste of realism to mountain-climbing. The movie gives a taste of the excitement and immense difficulty of climbing, even if here it is enveloped in an air of rashness.

Bizarrely enough, for this day and age, the story has the feel of a Nazi propaganda film. The film is dominated by the heroism of the climbers. The subtle difference is perhaps that one of the two, Toni, is not in it for the glory but for the love of climbing. But even if they are not both climbing for their medal from Hitler, it is their courage and “noble savage” spirit which shines – not only doing their national duty of serving the Führer in his army but also having that unbreakable masculine outdoor courage in which the party prides itself.

When they accept the challenge, going to Switzerland by bicycle (700km!), we are shown two other teams which conclude that the weather conditions make the trek up impossible. It is curious that different teams of experienced climbers would have such divergent opinions on whether or not you can go up, but there you have it. It could have been dismissed as a tension builder, if it was not that the two teams which considered it reckless were the French and Italian teams, and those which considered it feasible were the German and Austrian teams. And then we discover that the Austrians are bungling amateurs. It all sounds painfully like a Nazi plot, but there is one other message which finally leaves the after-taste as you walk out: the futility of the pursuit of glory.

In the end, Duel au Sommet is about a mountain and a group of climbers. And it is there where the film excels. If you’re ready for icy rock and avalanches, you can not get much closer to the climbers than in this one. But be warned, the tip of your couch will seem like too close to the edge.


The Limits of Control

the limits of controlThe Limits of Control

Jim Jarmusch :: USA :: 2009 :: 1h56

A tall black man in a shiny suit (Isaach de Bankomé) is sent to Madrid. A few mysterious meetings later, he gets off a train in Seville. And then another stop. He is on a mission, or perhaps on several missions, taking him cross country over the Iberian peninsula. This is a film without a customary narrative, leaving you to paradoxically guess the ongoings. Paradoxically, because every step taken by our hero is meticulously planned and controlled. He, at least, knows what he is doing, with a silent, patient cool.

At times the film looks like an old-school 1970s thriller. At other times, we see carefully chosen images which look more like works of art photography than than part of a feature film. At again other times, the surroundings and characters are so painfully normal that it seems out of place with the rest. As you are taken along, you will notice that the same structure of the scenes is repeated, with little curious reminders forwards or backwards in time to create an overall harmony. Perhaps the aesthetic could have been even more formal than it was, as after all the whole film takes on an experimental role. The background canvases of the countryside might at times even have been fake, as it would not have mattered. Reality is a flexible notion in the film and could easily have been bent a little more.

Reconstructing the film in a cafe afterwards is a lot of fun, so try to avoid seeing the film by yourself. You can take the side characters, the locations and the sparse exchanges to reconstruct a world in which the different characters all have their own obsessions and interests. But somehow they all work together. This succession of characters who are “in” on the conspiracy, even originate from widely different horizons, apparently all motivated to work together against the final puppet-master, whose presence we feel intrusively hovering above us throughout the film. And make sure you are up for it too. If you did not catch it yet, the pace of the film is slow.