Jennifer Peedom's 70-minute big-screen reverie Mountain inspires something that the biggest, purportedly most "awesome" movies of our era just can't stir: awe. The subject of Mountain, of course, is mountains, their fearsome majesty, overwhelming deadliness and harsh indifference to us. But from the extraordinary opening shots -- after a quickie behind-the-scenes intro establishing that, yes, the film truly is scored to the sounds of the Australian Chamber Orchestra and the narration of Willem Dafoe — a more dramatic concern seized me. How the hell did they film this? Behold the tiny, fragile human climber midway up the endless rock face, feeling around for the next hand- or foothold, proportionately something like an ant traversing the flat expanse of a movie screen. (Renan Ozturk, a climber of note, served as director of photography.)
Mountain surveys, without narrative or title cards, slopes and cliffs and apexes around the globe. We often see climbers but never follow them for more than a shot or two. The camera, aided by drones, skims so close over craggy peaks that I swear sometimes my feet tickled. The film was crafted in collaboration with the ACO, whose selections -- Beethoven, Grieg, Vivaldi -- shape the material. Rather than simply scoring what we see and cueing us to feel more deeply what the images already suggest, the music in Mountain plays like the film's organizing principle, as if the many shots of ascents and vistas have been arranged to illustrate it. The relationship between image and music, here, proves more rich and rewarding than the movies generally offer today, as one is not clearly subordinate to the other.