The Alpinist (2021)

September 22nd, 2021
Author: Meredith Taylor

Dirs: Peter Mortimer, Nick Rosen | US Doc 93’

Almost everyone is entranced by the thrill of mountains. And so another documentary about man pitting his wits and physical stamina against the elements is always welcome.

Just the sheer elation of being overwhelmed by stratospheric heights and snowcapped peaks only adds to the nail-biting suspense of the ascent: will the mountaineer make it to the top, or will nature hold sway. And then there’s the descent – the most critical part of any top-tier climber’s mission. More people die going back to base camp then scaling the summit in this perilous pastime

Mortimer and Rosen’s taut documentary offers much of the intensity Mountain and Free Solo and is probably more realistic about the pitfalls and realities of mountaineering. Not for the vertigo prone, the directors occasionally going off piste themselves in their storytelling, occasionally there’s a sense that the film teeters on the brink of a mockumentary in style.

The Alpinist does not refer to its namesake, the European Alps, but to the practice of tackling complex and perilous peaks, and here the focus is a complex climb in Patagonia where Canadian climber Marc-André Leclerc challenges perilous conditions. Best known for his derring-do in tackling mountain paths less travelled with the added challenge of racing against time to compete with established records, Leclerc is a courageous climber who pits himself against the elements. No mean feat considering he suffered ADHD as a child. A case in point is an ascent in Canada where he beat the record-holding alpinist Honnold in a complex endeavour given the challenging circumstances: like every sport nowadays enhanced gadgetry and equipment is increasingly de rigueur. Solo climbs are a speciality for Leclerc who gets his buzz from the spiritual experience that alpinism offers. Although he is occasionally accompanied by his girlfriend Brette Harrington, who is an accomplished climber herself.

Mortimer is not over-awed by Leclerc’s courage or the stratospheric scenery conjured up in The Alpinist’s dizzying visuals, keeping his distance – literally and metaphorically, although he doesn’t quite get under the Canadian’s skin. Leclerc is an unintentionally evasive character, and the shoot was not without its own ups and downs given the peripatetic and often haphazard nature of his life, when the spirit moves him he’s up and at it like a true pro. Talking heads help to break up the tonal intensity of Leclerc’s experience as fellow alpinists share their stories — some amusing, some intriguing in this heady foray into this extreme sport. MT


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