No Comments on NORTH FACE

This post is also available in: Italiano (Italian) Deutsch (German)

by Philipp Stölzl

grade: 5

Fully following the canons of the mainstream television film that we all too often come across in German productions, North Face, co-produced by Germany, Austria and Switzerland and directed by German director Philipp Stölzl, doesn’t know how to exploit its opportunities (first and foremost, the climb undertaken by the four protagonists), making the whole thing excessively flat and rhythmless.

On the slopes of Mount Eiger

Two friends. A great passion for mountaineering. One of the bloodiest wars in history coming up, along with an important event like the Olympics. A great friendship. A great love. A true story. But to what extent can a concrete connection with reality be synonymous with the good quality of a film? It all lies, in fact, in the way the film is made. And, unfortunately, in the case of North Face, a co-production from 2008 between Germany, Austria and Switzerland, directed by the German Philipp Stölzl, the final result, despite a lot of interesting ideas, leaves much to be desired.

As already mentioned, the story is inspired by real events. We are in Germany, in 1936. The young Toni Kurz (Benno Fürmann) and Andi Hinterstoisser (Florian Lukas) have always dreamed of climbing the north face of Mount Eiger, despite the fact that such a challenge has cost two of their colleagues dearly in the past. The opportunity, however, finally comes at the Olympics. Many will follow this dangerous challenge (in which Austrians Willy Angerer and Edi Rainer will also take part) minute by minute, including the young Luise (Johanna Wokalek), a childhood friend of the two and Toni’s former girlfriend, who now works as a reporter for a Berlin newspaper.

In short, there are all the necessary ideas for an exciting adventure film. Or maybe not? Having just won its first Oscar for Best Foreign Language Film (awarded to The Counterfeiters, made in 2007), Austria, which, since time immemorial, has not always caught the attention of Italian film distributors, has finally experienced copious international distribution of one of its films (almost certainly thanks to the role played by Germany and Switzerland). It is curious to notice, however, that this is one of the most unsatisfactory works. Because, although it is true that the story itself has undoubted appeal, on the other hand, it must unfortunately be acknowledged that Stölzl – similarly to what the Icelandic naturalised American Baltasar Kormakur did recently with Everest – in North Face has staged one cliché after another, without any possibility of “rescue”.

Thus fully following the canons of mainstream television films, which we all too often come across in the field of German productions, the film doesn’t know how to exploit its opportunities (first and foremost, the ascent of the four protagonists), making the whole thing excessively flat and rhythmless at times. If, in fact, the continuous marking of time with captions informing us about dates and times from time to time increases in its own way the suspense, in the end it doesn’t find its cathartic and necessary fulfilment. Except for sporadic moments when the camera gives us dizzying shots of steep cliffs and dangerous precipices, North Face never really takes off.

What, however, in a film like this one is most disturbing is the love story between Toni and beautiful journalist Luise. A love that is never fully fulfilled, as theirs is, features an embarrassing climax when the girl, rushing to her beloved’s aid together with a small team of rescuers, shouts cloying – and highly artificial – words of encouragement at night to Toni Kurz, suffering in the freezing cold, complete with tearful music as background. Such over-emphasised drama does nothing but make the film lose credibility – given also the absurdity of the staged situation – to the point that even the most involved spectator cannot wait for the end of the story.

The rest of the story, we already know (and anyway, for those who don’t know it yet, it won’t be mentioned here). In fact, North Face proves to be nothing more than a pandering and extremely nationalistic film, in which the good characters are the Germans, and which fictionalizes the story so much that it inevitably ends up resembling the numerous tearful and hastily made films that are produced every year in Germany. What a pity.

Original title: Nordwand
Directed by: Philipp Stölzl
Country/year: Germany, Austria, Switzerland / 2008
Running time: 126’
Genre: adventure, biographical, drama, sport
Cast: Benno Fürmann, Johanna Wokalek, Florian Lukas, Simon Schwarz, Georg Friedrich, Ulrich Tukur, Erwin Steinhauer, Branko Samarovski, Petra Morzé
Screenplay: Christoph Silber, Philipp Stölzl, Rupert Henning, Johannes Naber
Cinematography: Kolja Brandt
Produced by: Dor Film-West Produktionsgesellschaft, Majestic Filmproduktion, Lunaris Film

Info: the page of North Face on iMDb