Movie Review: Mountain (2017)

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Fascinated by the kind of synesthesia that occurs at the opera wherein “you end up listening more with your eyes and seeing more with your ears,” Australia Chamber Orchestra Artistic Director Richard Tognetti was inspired to see if the same phenomenon could be true of film.

Commissioning documentarian Jennifer Peedom to help put this to the test, the two worked alongside Mountains of the Mind author Robert Macfarlane, principle cinematographer Renan Ozturk, and Oscar nominated actor Willem Dafoe to create Mountain.

Best described by Peedom as “a marriage of music, words and picture,” in which all but nine of the film’s seventy-four minute running time is devoid of music, this ambitious follow-up to her 2015 award-winner Sherpa is an extraordinary sensuous feast.

Longing to explore the various ways in which our ever-changing relationship to mountains have changed in a relatively short period of time, Peedom tapped Macfarlane to pen the film’s intentionally sparse narration.

A writerly marvel, with its rhythmic blend of research and poetry made all the more intoxicating by Dafoe’s pitch-perfect delivery, in spite of its short length, Macfarlane's script would make quite a compelling book in its own right.

Cutting the film’s excellently curated and state-of-the-art original cinematography together with its Australia Chamber Orchestra soundtrack of Chopin, Grieg, Vivaldi, Beethoven, and new compositions by Tognetti, we’re hypnotized by the way Mountain’s constantly moving camera glides over snow like a bow over strings.

Watching traffic queue up a mountainside curly-cue style before showering the screen with an almost otherworldly view of the night skies, Peedom and her team use music, cinematography, and editing to give us a vicarious emotional experience of the Everest highs to the volcanic lows of mountain life that's simply amazing to behold.

Filmed in twenty-two countries, this experimental work pushes the boundaries of what we use to define a documentary. Released in three distinct versions including theatrical, IMAX, and a special live edit to go along with orchestral accompaniment, Peedom's film dazzles regardless of format.

That said, of course, similar to the way that climbers need the best gear, audiences do as well. Much like its subject, size (and in this case sound) matters, and this Mountain is best experienced on the biggest screen you can find.

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