Willem Dafoe climbs a Mountain of writerly prose

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      A documentary by Jennifer Peedom. Rating unavailable

      Classical music and the planet’s craggy peaks have a lot in common; at their most potent, their abstract grandeur has an effect on us that is both uplifting and deeply humbling. It’s an effect that Mountain tries hard to capture, and sometimes does, with its ever-shuffling playlist of timeless music and globe-hopping images.

      Directed by Australian docmaker Jennifer Peedom, and written by her with naturalist Robert Macfarlane, the compact, 70-minute film is narrated by Willem Dafoe, perhaps too soothingly—especially when he’s handed such in-your-cliff-face lines as “The mountains we climb are not made only of rock and ice, but also of dreams and desire.”

      One could add “death wish” to that alliteration, and we do view some disasters that happen to humans who spend too much time with their heads in the clouds. From avalanches to lava flows, the forces on view here can be terrifying, although most adhere to “the call of the sublime”, as Dafoe intones. Some images can be both, like in a high-wire walk between hoodoos in the Utah desert. Cinematographer Renan Ozturk, who also shot the intense Meru, employs drones, airplanes, helicopters, and more to scour those hard-to-reach places, from Antarctica to Iceland.

      We visit not just mountains, but rich ecosystems of Sherpas, Tibetan monks, high-altitude birds and mammals, and humans seeking increasingly precarious purchase on heaven. The narration is doubly on-the-nose for archival footage taking us back to the colonization, and commercialization, of nature in the past 150 years, during which places and people “entered the realm of the known, and the owned”.

      There’s nothing wrong with the writerly through-line here; there’s just too much of it. Same goes for the relentless supply of masterly work by Ludwig van Beethoven and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, with sparer stuff by modern minimalists like Arvo Pärt and film composer Richard Tognetti, here leading the Australian Chamber Orchestra. You can pretty much figure that you’ll get some “In the Hall of the Mountain King” and The Four Seasons, for sure. But do we really need four hits of Vivaldi? The movie never shuts up, and sometimes you just want to look at the view.