North Face

North Face

North Face (Nordwand)
Made in: Germany
Language: German
Director: Philip Stölzl
Starring: Benno Fürmann, Florian Lukas, Johanna Wokalek, Ulrich Tukur, Georg Friedrich, Simon Schwarz
Year: 2008

Synopsis: In 1936, just before the Summer Olympic Games in Berlin, the Nazi regime seeks to find alpinists daring enough to conquer the treacherous North Face of the infamous Eiger, located in the Swiss Alps. The scaling of the rock face would be a boon to Nazi propaganda, and the German media of the time finds itself pressured to deliver a big story.

Luise Fellner (Johanna Wokalek), a principled rookie journalist, convinces her unscrupulous chief editor, Henry Arau (Ulrich Tukur), that two of her childhood friends are just the ones to take on the job. They are Toni Kurz (Benno Fürmann) and Andreas "Andi" Hinterstoisser (Florian Lukas), two German soldiers of the Mountaineering Brigade who have been obsessed with climbing since their youth.

Both highly skilled climbers, the two make an effective team with Toni being the rational thinker and Andi as the more daring, and impulsive, creative type. More interested in the art of rock climbing than the world-changing political issues of the time, Luise eventually convinces them to take on the challenge of scaling the Eiger. And if they pull it off, it would be a huge boost for her career.

After completing their trek to Switzerland where the adventure is to take place, Toni and Andi find that their chief competitors are Edi Rainer (Georg Friedrich) and Willi Angerer (Simon Schwarz), an Austrian team who also want the glory of being first on the summit.

At the start of the expedition, all begins as a battle for personal pride as both teams begin their journey using the same route. Literally within arms length of each other, the two pairs trade verbal jabs while observers at the posh and luxurious hotel at the base of the Eiger look on through binoculars.

As the climbers toil, the North Face expedition is looked upon by the insufferable Henry Arau as nothing more than a sporting event to justify national pride, Nazi philosophy, and to advance his own career.

Within a few days, however, conditions on the Eiger become brutal. As the climbers throw politics out the window, the race to the top becomes a race for survival as both teams are tested to the very limits of human endurance against unforgiving elements.

The Good: North Face is a sh*t-in-your-pants thrill ride full of intensity and nail-biting situations. The gorgeous cinematography is pretty much close to an IMAX experience, with no fake-looking (or obvious-looking) CG to ruin the authenticity. The characters are pretty solid, and Benno Fürmann turns in another compelling performance.

Given the setting, director Phillip Stölzl inserts a lot of political commentary throughout, but much of it is subtle and worked into the story without being self-conscious or preachy.

There are many mountain climbing movies out there, and Hollywood has churned out a few respectable pictures. But North Face has an energy sense of raw realism that's likely to stay with you after its over.

The Bad: The first part of the film lags just a little bit and the editing is a bit awkward in places.

Also, areas of historical accuracies had to be compromised in order to make the elements of the film fit more neatly as a story. I can't go into detail otherwise I'll ruin the ending, but if you do some digging you'll see what I mean.

Who would like this film: North Face is for you if you like intense movies. It won't matter much if you're a foreign film fan or not- the underlying story here is something that shouldn't be lost on anyone who has had at least a basic understanding of history. I would especially recommend this one if you enjoy rock climbing, and have a respect to how things were done in the old days.

Nothing is dumbed down, with terms for mountain climbing equipment and jargon being regularly thrown around. It might make the movie more enjoyable for those who do understand how to get a belay plate to work or how much it sucks to not have cramp-ons on an icy surface, but even if you're not on the up-and-up on such things (like me), you'll still get the gist of everything that's going on.

Be aware that this film is very intense, long, unpredictable, sobering, and with a gutsy ending that Hollywood wouldn't have the rocks to pull off. See this movie on the big screen, if you can. Or at least in HD.

(3 and 1/2 out of 4 stars)

Review written by: Joe Yang

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