North Face Review

Philipp Stölzl’s account of the attempt by two German climbers to scale the north face of the Eiger revives the tradition of the German Mountain Movie made famous by Arnold Fanck and Louis Trenker in the 1920s and 30s. Set in the thirties itself, North Face is based on a true story, but it has all the characteristics in place – two strong handsome young German men, Andi Hinterstoisser and Toni Kurz, who are willing to put aside the risks of climbing the sheer vertical expanse of rock and ice that has defied all previous attempts to conquer it and have claimed the lives of better mountain climbers than themselves. Despite the desire of the Berlin press for the young men to demonstrate themselves as fine examples of German manhood, a boost to the country that is on the brink of “expansion”, and about to host the Olympic games, it’s a more personal challenge of a childhood sweetheart that drives the initially reluctant Kurz to overcome his misgivings and undertake the perilous ascent with his colleague.

With all the elements in place, excellent period detail and the dramatic landscapes of the Swiss Alps to back it up, North Face doesn’t fail to deliver on its promise, the setting up of the situation and what is at stake for each of the characters. The conditions they have to endure, the primitive climbing gear and materials, the sheer daunting presence of the Eiger simply defies belief and it’s a tribute to how well made the film is that the viewer is there every step of the thrilling, breathtaking scenes of the climb and wincing painfully at some of the more agonising moments. As thrilling and gripping as this is, North Face is more than just a marvellous filmmaking spectacle. With its race between the Austrian and German climbers, leaving the Italians and French rather more cautious about embarking on such a foolhardy enterprise, along with the part played by the press here to give the public a heroic demonstration of German might and ingenuity, the film also puts a human face on national attitudes and public interests in the pre-war years.

The Disc: North Face is given a fine transfer on DVD, the image showing strong tones and accurate colouration, with fine detail and clarity, though there is room for a slight improvement that could undoubtedly achieved in High Definition (a Region B Blu-ray disc is also available from Metrodome). Dolby Digital 2.0 and Dolby Digital 5.1 mixes are included, both excellent. A full set of extra features are included, most of them standard EPK and text-based material, but some of the background history in the Making Of is quite informative and the Deleted Scenes in particular are worthwhile, adding depth and background to the characters. The short Visual Effects featurette is impressive, but avoid it if you feel that it could spoil the illusion that the film strives so hard to create.

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