14 of 16 people found the following review helpful
A Film in Peak Form,
This review is from: North Face [Blu-ray]  [Region Free] (Blu-ray)
I did not take much notice of this film when it was initially shown here in Germany last autumn. Having read about its imminent release on Blu-ray, I bought the German version online just recently. Speaking fluent German as I do, and living only about three hours driving distance from the Bavarian Alps, this film held a surefire appeal for me.
I had already read some positive reviews of the film, so I thought it might just be worth the purchase price. I was completely wrong. Not only was the Blu-ray version great value for money, it was probably one of the best films I have seen in the past year! Gripping, genuinely moving and well told, it makes you really wonder why people inflict such hardship on themselves just to climb to the top of a huge rock! But isn't that exactly the point? This story (with a factual background) tells of 2 men from Berchtesgaden in Southern Bavaria (Germany) and their determination to be the first to climb the north face of the Eiger mountain in Switzerland. Such endeavours probably appear pointless to the vast majority of us. Yet it is this very struggle between man and the elements that enobles such human efforts. This is a film which helps us understand more about where our humanity - with all its positive and negative facets - can lie.
No, the film never fully explains to its audience exactly why mountaineering holds the two film protagonists in its thrall. It is simply a given. And if the truth be known, we do not really need an answer to that question. The thrill of the challenge, and the fact that the (Eiger) mountain is simply there to be vanquished, is reason enough for the men's attempt, in direct competition with an Austrian pair of mountaineers, to reach the mountain peak. We are kept on tenterhooks right to the end about the film's ultimate outcome ...but there can only be one winner in this race to the top; the climbers, or the mountain itself.
Apart from the grippingly told story, there were other elements which appealed equally to me about this film. The film simply feels authentic. Living in Germany,and familiar with Austria/Switzerland, I can usually spot phoney film set-ups a mile off (two miles off with my contact lenses in!) Whether it was the fantastic alpine panoramic shots, or intimate close ups often detailing ambition and triumph, pain and desperation in the climber's faces, the picture composition was always engrossing. Outside shots are clear, bright and detailed, as one would expect from a new film. Some of the mountain top shots are grainy, others were soft and lacking in focus. Some others suffer slightly from camera movement. These may have been deliberate stylistic elements, so apart from these very minor gripes, they do not detract from the film's overall quality. Also, other production values, such as costumes, or even the actor's accents (Bavarian/ Swiss dialects) further enhanced the genuine feel to the whole project. In the latter case, a certain compromise was probably made in respect of the two lead actors - Florian Lukas and Benno Fürmann - as they are clearly not Bavarian (in fact, they both hail from Berlin). Given that a lot of Germans themselves would not necessarily easily understand a thick Bavarian dialect/accent (of which there are many variations), this was likely a necessary compromise.
I am also pleased to note that as this film plays out in Germany/Switzerland of 1936, it was not particularly marred by the usual hackneyed movie treatment of day-to-day life in Nazi Germany. Life as it probably was then, is simply taken as given. There is little to be seen of the usual heavy-handed pedagogical attempts to show us (yet again) just how deplorable the Nazis were. We are treated to people as people wanting, for the most part, to get on with their lives. That in itself makes a refreshing change.
To sum up: the story may take a little while to ignite and the somewhat contrived love interest can irritate occasionally, but when the film gets going, prepare yourself for an emotional rollercoaster, which few films of recent vintage can match. Highly recommended.
(This review already appeared in a slightly different form for the DVD edition)