2008 // Germany - Austria // Philipp Stölzl // November 13, 2009 // Theatrical Print (Landmark Plaza Frontenac Cinema)
Richard Wagner is name-checked in Philipp Stölzl Nazi-era mountaineering thriller, North Face, which is appropriate (and not just due to the swastikas). Towering and bombastic, often in moments when such a grandiose tone is entirely unearned, the film chronicles the attempt by two German enlisted men goaded by Nazi propaganda (and a little ambition) to conquer the north face--a.k.a., "The Murder Wall"--of the Eiger in the Bernese Alps. Stölzl's approach is strictly Hollywood by way of Deutschland, complete with soaring orchestral gestures and a pining love interest (Johanna Wokalek, as far from her radical she-devil in The Baader-Meinhof Complex as can be.) The director frequently overplays his hand, particularly with vaguely repugnant supporting characters that have little function other than to compare unfavorably to our Aryan heroes. Which isn't to say the North Face isn't damn thrilling in the moment, particularly with Stölzl keeps his focus on the climbers' ordeal and their astoundingly low-tech methods and tools. With a little CGI wizardry, the film renders the Eiger as a truly terrifying creature in its own right, seemingly more at home in one of Wagner's Teutonic myths (or Middle-Earth) than Switzerland.