North Face

The German film, North Face is a fictionalized account of a 1936 attempt to climb the north face of the Eiger Mountain in Switzerland. Two German climbers, Toni Kurz (Benno Fürmann) and Andreas Hinterstoisser (Florian Lukas) and two Austrians, Edi Rainer (Georg Friedrich) and Willy Angerer (Simon Schwarz) are determined to be the first to climb the dangerous north face. However they run into various difficulties. Their ascent is closely watched by a young reporter, Luise Fellner (Johanna Wokalek) – who is also Toni’s sometime girlfriend – and by her ambitious boss, Henry Arau (Ulrich Tukur).

Although I liked this film overall, there are a few problems with it. While the film frankly acknowledges that the climbers were tools of Nazi propaganda, I got the impression that the filmmakers weren’t sure what conclusions they should draw from this. Kurz and Hinterstoisser are portrayed as being politically indifferent, though I wonder whether that was true in real life. (Rainer and Angerer are portrayed as enthusiastic Nazis. They’re clearly meant to be less sympathetic than the other two.) Also, at the end Luise is inspired to move to New York and become a photographer. This reminded me uncomfortably of Titanic, in which Kate Winslet is inspired to become an aviatrix after seeing her boyfriend freeze to death in the North Atlantic. The idea here seems to be that a woman has to see her significant other come to a bad end before she can do something with her life.

What makes this film so powerful and disturbing are the climbing scenes. We see the climbers struggling in an absolutely unforgiving environment, where little mistakes can turn into huge disasters. At times I couldn’t help squirming in my seat. At the end we’re left wondering why some people undertake such dangerous pursuits as mountain climbing. The only explanation seems to be that they do it because they can.

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