Although I haven’t seen all too many German films from the last 10 years, every one that I’ve seen has thoroughly impressed me. “The Lives of Others” and “Downfall”, They just have really impressed me with their vision and with their scope. Enter the newest import from Germany, “North Face”. “North Face” came out in 2008 in its original country, and is finally getting a limited release here state-side.
Set in 1936 Germany,”North Face” is the (mostly) true story of two childhood friends, Andi and Toni whom have been avid mountain climbers all their lives. The duo hear of one mountain in the Alps that has not been ascended by man, and naturally decide to attempt and climb it. Coincidentally, their child-hood friend Luise is a photojournalist, whom is assigned to cover the story of the two climbing the mountain.
The director, Phillip Stolzl, handles the scenes on the mountain masterfully. The last hour of the film is pretty much just the two protagonists ascending the mountain, and this part of the film is very suspenseful. It’s not really spoilers if I tell you Andi and Toni die by the film’s end (The movie is based on a true story), but somehow the director manages to maintain suspense. However, when it comes to interactions between the characters, Stolzl somewhat falters. We never get a real sense of why precisely the two main characters are so close, we never get a sense as to why they have such a deep bond. Because of this, some of the film’s more emotionally “heavy” moments can come off flat. This is probably the biggest flaw of the film. Also, the film’s love interest, Luise, is an uninteresting, dull character who has far too much screen-time. I know this likely sounds radical but I wish they cut her character out of the film altogether, she added very, very little.
From a technical standpoint, the film is rather exquisite. The cinematography is nothing short of gorgeous. The 1930’s setting is captured with pretty great detail. And despite the shallow characterizations, Benno Furrman and Florian Lukas as Andi and Toni are quite excellent. They often capture a genuine sense of fear that solely adds to the film’s quality.
Overall, “North Face” may have some pretty major issues with the characterizations, but that doesn’t prevent it from being a very interesting, entertaining film. The final hour manages to be suspenseful (a minor miracle given that I knew the ending walking into the theater) and the acting is quite good.