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Off Peak: Philipp Stölzl’s “North Face”

Off Peak: Philipp Stölzl’s “North Face”

The lineage of cinematic mountain climbing extends back to the films of the 1900s. These early efforts evolved into the hugely popular German Bergfilme of the Twenties, the Alpine equivalent of the American Western; in both genres the activities of its characters are circumscribed by features of the landscape. The image of the heroic Aryan mountain climber conquering nature through force of will didn’t go unnoticed by the Third Reich in the 1930s (notably, Leni Riefenstahl began her career starring in Bergfilmes), and the Germanic mythology captured in these works certainly found a ready outlet in the epic pageants of the Nazi era. Aside from Eastwood’s The Eiger Sanction, Cliffhanger is probably the most familiar mountain climbing film to many (though Bergfilme purists are quick to note the ways in which it strays from the mold), but it didn’t do a great deal to resuscitate the genre in the Nineties; the outsized success of the smaller-scaled Touching the Void represents a more accessible reboot for these perilous dramas. Now, German filmmaker Philipp Stölzl (he of the dolorous video for Rammstein’s “Du Hast” and Madonna’s “American Pie”) returns to the wellspring of the Bergfilme to tackle the true story of a pair of young German climbers in 1936, a task fraught both politically and technically. Read Jeff Reichert’s review of North Face.

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