Feb 17, 2011
After discovering the 2008 German mountaineering film North Face, based on a true story involving a team of mountain climbers (two Bavarians and two Austrians) that attempted to climb North Face of the Eiger mountain in 1936, I immediately went to the local library and rented a copy. I was intrigued to see how modern German filmmakers would handle the historical relationship mountaineering had in promoting German national pride for the government of the Third Reich. After all, before the National Socialists ever established total power, the "Mountain film" was very popular in Germany. In fact, the Third Reich's greatest propagandist (not to mention, greatest female filmmaker in film history), Leni Riefenstahl, started her cinema career by starring in Arnold Fanck's The Holy Mountain (1926). Upon viewing The Holy Mountain for the first time, I was spellbound by the Nordic mysticism and völkisch aesthetic of the film. Before initially viewing North Face, I wondered if the film would somehow echo back to the Teutonic spirituality of the original German mountain films. After watching North Face, I can honestly say that my hunger for organic German cinema (not the globalist films that are considered "German" cinema nowadays) was fulfilled.
One of Adolf Hitler's most imperative goals (as outlined in Mein Kampf) was to unite all Germanic people around the world. In North Face, two Germans and two Austrians unite to climb the Eiger as a symbolic act of pan-German unity. Two years after the 1936 mountaineering expedition featured in North Face took place, Germany annexed Uncle Adolf's homeland Austria; which was no surprise considering 99.73 percent of Austrian's welcomed the Third Reich. Unlike most modern German films about the Third Reich, North Face is not completely drenched in defeatist apologies for Nazism. Instead, the film focuses on the strong wills of the individual mountain climbers. In fact, the two German mountaineers, Toni and Andi, decide to quit the German Wehrmacht (army) after they are denied leave for their expedition. Mountaineering, unlike most popular team sports like Football and Basketball, is a true expression of the Faustian spirit. European man, the Faustian man, has always had the instinct to conquer nature and the world. In an undeniable display of bravery and nobility, the mountaineers featured in North Face are willing to risk their lives just to be the first to conquer the North Face of Eiger.
The Italian philosopher Julius Evola once wrote a book (Mediations on the Peak) on his mountaineering experiences. Baron Evola saw mountain climbing as a metaphor for a spiritual quest. Although in agreement with Evola's inspiriting mountaineering philosophy, I believe that mountain climbing can be a spiritual quest in itself. Very few recreational physical activities are comparable to mountaineering, where the individual has to be completely in tune and at the behest of nature. As so wonderfully portrayed in North Face, one wrong move in mountain climbing can result in instantaneous death. I can only imagine the gratifying and life affirming feeling that climbing to the top of a mountain would bestow upon a person. That being said, I really have to give praise to North Face director Philipp Stölzl and the courageous cast/crew of the film. North Face does not feature a "videogame aesthetic" and humdrum CGI special effects like most modern day action-adventure films. When watching North Face, it was hard for me to fathom the fact that the filmmakers were able create a movie that takes place mostly on a genuine snow and ice-covered mountain. On top of the dangerous and laborious camerawork featured in the film, the actors utilized the original mountaineer equipment used in the 1930s. The cinematic adventure featured in North Face makes 127 Hours feel like a trip to a plastic Hollywood playground by comparison. I certainly cannot imagine any Tinseltown filmmaker or actor taking a death-defying Faustian gamble just to create a breathtaking film like North Face. It is no coincidence that the same country that produced Werner Herzog and his mesmerizing film Fitzcarraldo, also produced North Face.
I have no problem admitting that I have always had little interest in action and adventure films, including films involving mountaineering. To be quite honest, I had no grand expectations for North Face, as I expected it be another cheap and shallow action-adventure film, except with Nazis. After watching this adrenalin-driven mountain climbing picture, I consider it a worthy tribute to the German mountain films of yesteryear. North Face may not have a happy ending tacked on like your typical Hollywood movie, but the sorrowful conclusion is quite fitting when you put the film in historical context. Like the protagonists featured in North Face, the Third Reich may have failed but the German people gave it their all and fought to the irreconcilable end.
Posted by Soiled Sinema at 11:20 PM
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