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DVD Review

DVD cover

North Face (Nordwand)


Starring: Benno Fürmann, Florian Lukas, Johanna Wokalek, Georg Friedrich and Simon Schwarz
RRP: £19.99
Certificate: 12
Available 27 April 2009

Summer 1936. Bearing the expectations of their nation and their Führer, two climbers set out to be the first to ascend the “last great problem of the Alps”. But soon their ascent becomes as race for survival, threatened by injury and extreme snow storms, a terrifying race against time and the awesome forces of nature. Journey to the pulse-pounding heart of danger and suspense and relive 48 white knuckle hours that would go down in history. This is the incredible true story behind the attempted ascent of the legendary Eiger mountain’s North Face; towering over 1,800m this mountain has claimed over 60 lives and earned itself the nickname Murder Wall...

North Face (Nordwand) is a 2008 German movie directed by Philipp Stolzl. The film is set in 1930s Germany and follows two German climbers as they attempt to scale the infamous North Face of the Eiger - a climb that would end in tragedy.

Many had died in the attempt, but Toni Kurz and Andi Hinterstoisser were convinced they could make it. Set against a backdrop of political instability and growing menace as the Nazis steadily gain power, the film juxtaposes nature at its harshest and most unforgiving with the complex - and often contradictory - nature of humanity.

The movie takes some poetic licence and introduces a love story, as well as showing the fate of some of the climbers differently than in reality - the most notable being (without spoiling too much) one of the group who sacrifices himself in order to save his team mate. There's also a look at how the two climbers cycled their way to the mountain because they could barely afford the train fare, and at the poor climbing gear they owned.

It was interesting to note that the director moved away from traditional films in a similar vein, by not making the mountain one of the main stars. There are no fancy shots of how daunting and huge the Eiger is - no point of view shots of the climbers as they look down or up to see what a vast area they have to cover.

This works well for the most part, as it steers well away from traditional movie cliches, but it also works against the film, as we never really get any feeling of how difficult the climb is. In fact, it looks quite easy - only three days to reach the summit (although since then it's been achieved in a few hours). At the end of the movie you kind of get the feeling that it's easy to climb, and only an unlucky encounter with an avalanche or exposure because you fail to bed down for the night in time, will spell disaster. Of course, in reality it's much more complicated than that, but the movie doesn't really capture that as well as it might have.

Another element I think is worth mentioning is Christian Kolonovits beautiful score. His main Eiger theme is echoed throughout the movie and, while it's a very simple theme, it manages to capture the mood perfectly.

Extras include Making Northface (17 min, 17 sec); Visual Effects of Northface (2 min, 19 sec which shows some of the climbing shots with the green screen background, which is then built up to show the finished shot; Deleted Scene (6 min, 8 sec which includes more scenes with the family - it's a shame these were cut as they do add a little more to the movie); a text based interview with Philipp Stölzl (writer / director) and Kolja Brandt (cinematographer); The Myth of the Eiger North Face (text based); Timeline of the Attempts of the Eiger Mountain (text based); Cast and Crew Biographies (text based); Theatrical Trailer; and UK Exclusive Trailer.

There is a slight issue with the text based extras - or at least there was on my DVD player - in that if you attempt to return to the main menu before reading all of the pages, the feature you were reading stays on screen, yet the menu options for the main features page appear over the text as you press up and down on your remote control. This means you then have to go back to the main menu and choose the extras menu again.

North Face is a well crafted, beautifully shot movie that is well worth getting hold of.


Nick Smithson

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