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Ibon Cormenzana • Director of Beyond the Summit

“It’s during the difficult times that you reveal what you’re really like”


- The Basque filmmaker presents a film that blends adventure, drama and noble principles, toplined by Javier Rey and Patricia López Arnáiz

Ibon Cormenzana • Director of Beyond the Summit
(© Álex Zea/Málaga Film Festival)

The French-Spanish co-production Beyond the Summit [+see also:
film review
interview: Ibon Cormenzana
film profile
has been presented in the official competition section of the 25th Málaga Film Festival, a few days prior to its release in Spanish theatres, which will take place on Friday 25 March. Its director, Ibon Cormenzana, chatted to Cineuropa in the Andalusian city to break down this action film, shot in the wilds of nature, which does not shy away from the personal conflicts endured by its main characters, played by Javier Rey and Patricia López Arnáiz.

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Cineuropa: There aren’t many adventure films aimed at adults being made in Spain, are there?
Ibon Cormenzana:
It’s true – there are hardly any fictional adventure films set in the mountains; there are some brilliant mountain-set documentaries, but I don’t think fictions are being made. For that reason alone, it would be worth going to see Beyond the Summit, because it’s something special. When I started working on the screenplay, I was obsessed with my mother having to like it. I had to make a film that she would like, even though it was an adventure set in the Annapurna mountains. She is someone who knows nothing about mountains and isn’t the least bit interested in them, but she forms part of an audience that usually goes to arthouse movie theatres. I wanted members of the audience who were not fans of the mountains to be able to get into this story, not so much because of its adventure elements, but rather because of the more emotional and mystical side of its characters.

You’re Basque – mountains are usually an important element for people from your homeland
Indeed they are, and furthermore, I’ve been living in Barcelona for many years, and the Catalans are also huge fans of the mountains: both factors converged in Beyond the Summit. I’m an amateur enthusiast, as I got mixed up in this world because of a personal crisis that I went through years ago, and someone mentioned to me that I should go running in the mountains, which led me to take an interest in it. I learned a series of values that have been of great use to me on a personal level in my life, which is why I wanted to incorporate them into a feature and thus shine a light on them, so that the audience could become familiar with them. They are the principles that mountain climbers live by – very basic things that we take for granted, but which, in reality, we do not apply in our daily lives. If we did apply them, people would do much better in life.

They’re values such as empathy, solidarity and helping others. All of this emerges especially in tricky situations, such as the ones that the characters in Beyond the Summit are faced with.
Yes, in those problematic, difficult moments, that’s when you show what you’re really like. I remember the film Force Majeure [+see also:
film review
interview: Ruben Östlund
film profile
, where a family is torn apart when they see how the father reacts to a dangerous situation. It’s like when some misfortune befalls you, and your closest friend doesn’t support you. But mountain climbers think more about their companions than they do about themselves. Besides, making an effort generates self-esteem and empowers us; it makes us evolve. They also live in a straightforward way and really appreciate the simple things, like a sunset.

But there are moments in Beyond the Summit when the characters act so irresponsibly that they seem like children.
The role of Mateo (Javier Rey) has that hint of impulsiveness to it: he knows that he’s taking on a huge risk, and that he may well die while trying to overcome it, but actually it gives him vitality, as in this way, he can move past his trauma and his loss. In his head, he has pieced together a way to resolve it: a great challenge for a great loss.

Also, in your film, you see humans as these miniscule beings amidst the magnificence of nature.
Yes, the Himalayas and the vastness of those landscapes make us exactly that: a speck of dust in the universe. We’re nothing, but at the same time, I’ve had extraordinary experiences reaching a summit alone, and I wanted to incorporate that into this story – that connection with everything. In a subconscious way, that’s what Mateo is looking for during his search.

Lastly, how did you and your cast and crew prepare, both physically and mentally, for this very trying shoot?
I came prepared, but the actors weren’t, really, and that’s why a professional mountain climber taught them how to climb rocks and ice, how to administer an injection at 7,000 metres above sea level and how to breathe above a certain altitude. There were also books we read in order to understand the apparent madness that these guys were suffering from. Many of them were looking for this connection with life, as if they would be able to find the meaning of life up there.

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(Translated from Spanish)

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