Review: ‘Mountain’ is Gripping, Hypnotic, Poetic & Awe-Inducing

Minimal narration from Willem Dafoe makes for engrossing viewing here that puts the emphasis squarely on spectacular footage of… mountains. Often playing tricks with one’s sense of scale, never mind inducing occasional vertigo (as the camera looks down an insanely long drop over the shoulder of an even more insane free climber, for example), Mountain is gripping and hypnotic, setting out to be poetic and awe-inducing, and succeeding on both fronts.

The film’s often unexpected camera movements play to the gut and heart as much as one’s eyes, director Jennifer Peedom delivering an unconventional, captivating experience that is more meditative and, well, “buzzy”, than a traditional documentary.

Yes, there’s a smidgen of commentary on modern mountaineering and extreme sports. And Dafoe muses Malick-ian at times about humans’ relationships with peaks. But more than anything else, Mountain harnesses spectacular helicopter and drone shots that linger and dazzle, engaging with the film’s majestic subjects in ways that offer so much more visually than the typical aerial unit establishing shots you’re familiar with in cinema.

As the camera moves towards, away from, and around summits and slopes in balletic fashion – in tandem with the Australian Chamber Orchestra’s score – there’s a cumulative effect of immersion and a growing sense of wonder. That’s if you’re in the right frame of mind for such things, though. This tonal poem of a film wants you to soak in it, it isn’t an experience that will reward those that can’t bring the requisite patience or willingness to let it wash over oneself.

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