It is only appropriate that a film from a nation such as Germany, which has had such a varied and crooked history, full of manic ups and despicable downs - both from a sociopolitical and cinematic viewpoint - should go back to its own snowcapped cinematic roots after all these years. Taking a cue from the mountain films of silent German cinema - which incidentally (or perhaps not so incidentally) helped launch the career of the now infamous (and some would say quite nefarious) Leni Reifenstahl, Hitler and Goebbels eventual very own go-to-gal for the most artistic in propaganda filmmaking a decade or so later - North Face is both an homage to a "simpler" time (a period just prior to the insidious rise of National Socialism) as well as a taut and quite tense thriller that is both figuratively and literally the best cliffhanger of the year.
Seriously this is edge-of-your-seat kinda stuff here. In fact the final half hour you may very well not even be in your seat at all anymore. Being the story of the race to reach the top of the north face of the Eiger (an almost unclimbable section of the Swiss Alps) North Face is, perhaps inevitably so, a visual stunner of a movie. Grandiose in its scope and succinct in its storytelling, Philipp Stolzl, only his second feature (along with a string of music videos), has layered a film that never seems to try to be anything more than what it is - a love story basked in the ice-capped deathtrap that is the Eiger. Though the film (based on actual events) is set just before the outbreak of WWII and with protagonists of healthy German stock, Stolzl never dwells on the idea of Nazism. This is the story of two mountain climbers and the woman waiting at the foot of the iconic mountain for them to return. An archetype story if ever there was one - the idea of National Socialism merely a periphery throughout.
Perhaps this is a way to get back to the German cinema that celebrated natural beauty over politics (though in a way, even those early mountain films predicted what darkness was to come) and away from the ugly world that history has made Germany. Then again, perhaps this is merely a way to ignore the past one does not desire to see - a trait found throughout modern German cinema (though a trait beginning to fall by the wayside as a new generation begins to open old wounds in order to heal the present from the pain of the past). Whichever reason may be the case, Stolzl's film is indeed a thing of natural beauty over politics. And as for that final half hour - get ready to (metaphorically) climax. [05/15/10]