Everest, the vertical vision of Kormákur
by Camillo De Marco
- VENICE 2015: The action drama, which will open the 72nd Venice Film Festival this evening, does not contribute to the development of American film with European aesthetics
"It's not altitude, it's attitude". Icelandic director Baltasar Kormákur used this quip, made by star Jake Gyllenhaal in the action drama that will open the 72nd Venice Film Festival this evening, Everest [+see also:
film profile], to sum up his directorial input in this Hollywood film, commissioned by Universal Pictures. It’s pure entertainment at high altitude, kids and a climbing movie. But I’m also offering you my vertical point of view.
The fact that Everest is “based on a true story” naturally makes the film more emotionally engaging, and if the adrenaline is not flowing as thick and fast as it should due to the cold and the real action movie chills are at an all time low, there’s always the human side of the film. Perhaps we don’t sympathise with the depressed doctor from Denver (Josh Brolin) who spends $65,000 to feel more alive at a height of 8,000 metres and goes home without a nose or hands, but what about the brave New Zealander (Jason Clarke) who dies to save an amateur climber whilst his wife (Keira Knightley) is at home about to give birth to their baby girl?
The expansion on the psychological profile of the characters is lost however in the thin atmosphere 8,000 metres above sea level, where the only question left hovering is why such big-name actresses as Emily Watson and Robin Wright were cast in such small roles.
The truth is that on that 11 May of 1996 on the South side of Everest, everything went wrong. The ropes weren’t secure, the oxygen tanks weren’t full, the sherpas weren’t capable of dealing with the situation and a blizzard sealed the fate of many. Kormákur documents the dramatic ascent, drawing inspiration from news clippings and the books of survivors such as Jon Krakauer, a journalist for Outside magazine, who wrote the bestseller Into Thin Air. Krakauer is also the author of Into the Wild, which was adapted for the big screen by Sean Penn in 2007.
But the true appeal of Everest lies in its 1970s disaster movie style, which Kormákur wanted to incorporate, distancing the film both from the all-muscle vertical vision of Cliffhanger with Sylvester Stallone and from the rigour of The Wildest Dream.
Baltasar Kormákur is one of many talented directors from Northern Europe who choose to ‘try’ using studios. But Everest certainly doesn’t contribute to conditioning the development of American film with European language, aesthetics and themes, as was the case in the early twentieth century and has been more recently.
(Translated from Italian)