Music Box Films
Now Showing at: Esquire Theatre.
Review by: Larry Thomas
Everyone has their guilty pleasures when it comes to movies. For me, I’ll watch any Viking epic, no matter how cheesy or badly acted. The other type of story that totally grabs my attention is about mountain climbing, even the studio-bound tales of the 1950s that have very little authenticity.
The German saga North Face is a masterpiece of mountaineering, and a fine piece of moviemaking. In 1936, the only mountain in the alps that was, at that time, still unscaled, was the North Face of the Eiger, a formidable wall of rock, snow and ice. The Third Reich believed that if a German team could be the first to reach the summit, it would offer great worldwide propaganda for their cause.
Toni and Andi are two young men from Berteschgaden who have been fast friends since childhood and have a great passion for climbing. Luise is not only their friend, but is in love with Toni. She has left Berteschgaden to work in Berlin in a newspaper office, in hopes of becoming a professional photographer. When the paper learns of her friendship with the two, and that they are going to attempt the Eiger, they send Luisa to cover the event.
Based on a true story about how these young men attempted to be the first to succeed in being the first to make the treacherous climb, North Face is many stories in one: it’s about friendship, love, tragedy, and the spirit that drives man to attempt impossible feats of daring. The cast is unknown in this county, but all do impeccable jobs in portraying their characters. As Luise, Johanna Wolkalek is quite charming as the young woman who wants both love and a career, but is also required to summon up bravery almost equal to that of her friends. Benno Furmann, who was in the 2008 Speed Racer movie, is Toni, and Florian Lukas is Andi. Both actors are more than up to the challenge of the script.
Co-written and directed by Phillipp Stoezel, North Face is a marvel to look at. The climbing scenes, which make up a great deal of the running time, are truly spectacular and will likely have you on the edge of your seat. If the filmmakers used any CGI effects, they are very subtle. If not, the cast and crew were daring on a level with the original climbers. Composer Christian Kolonovitz has contributed a sweeping, epic score worthy of the great masters like Korngold, Herrmann, or Tiomkin. It’s good enough to be a welcome part of the program in any concert hall.
North Face is not a perfect film. The opening drags a bit, and I have read that the script takes some liberties with the facts, just like every other movie, but it more than makes up for those minor deficiencies in the heart and soul of the story. The climbing scenes will have you gasping for breath, and maybe even make you a convert to becoming a fan of mountain climbing films.
The unrated North Face, in German with English subtitles, is now showing at the Esquire Theatre.