Mountain is that certain kind of essay film that aims to at once glorify and critique its subject – in this case, mountains and the mountain-climbing industry. It’s a seemingly contradictory goal, but one that’s achievable; just look at films like Behemoth, Dead Slow Ahead or the apotheosis of this documentary sub-genre, Werner Herzog’s Lessons of Darkness.
This should have been a slam-dunk for director Jennifer Peedom, who was responsible for the incredibly-effective Sherpa. Unfortunately, this time the balance is off. Where Sherpa unpeeled the hypocrisy of the Everest industry, linking them to a broader system of predatory capitalism, Mountain simply has Willem Dafoe spell out its thesis in softly-worded, poetically-written narration. Where Sherpa eschewed spectacular cinematography in its confronting midsection for gritty, hand-held camerawork, Mountain revels in (majestic!) spectacle throughout, underlined by its (admittedly beautiful) score from the Australian Chamber Orchestra.
Mountain wants to be a critique of modern mountaineering, a takedown of those who exploit natural beauty for financial gain, who queue in endless lines to ‘conquer’ Everest. But it’s too enamoured, too awed by that natural beauty to truly succeed as a critique; you’re more likely to book a mountain-climbing trip after seeing this than cancel such plans.