Nazi Germany hosted the Olympics in 1936, which started the tradition of the International Olympic movement kowtowing to brutal totalitarian regimes (Stalinist Moscow in 1980 and Mao’s China in 2008). The Nazis anted as much propaganda as possible, so it urged German Alpinists to conquer the virgin north face of the 13,025-foot, or 3,970 meters, Eiger, one of three peaks forming a ridge in the Bernese Alps. The other two are the Jungfrau and the Monk. The original name of the Eiger is the Ogre. I mention the height in meters because the heights in the film are in meters, which diminishes their effect on Americans. Since this is a film in German with subtitles, it makes no sense to not have the heights in meters. Unfortunately, the subtitles blend in with the background, so they are often difficult to read, regardless of whether the heights are in feet or meters. In response to the Nazi desire, climbers Toni Kurz (Benno Fürmann) and Andi Hinterstoisser (Florian Lukas) took on the task. In 1938, Alpine Journal editor Edward Lisle Strutt called the north face ‘an obsession for the mentally deranged,‘ and ‘the most imbecile variant since mountaineering first began.’ This film shows why.
In order to tell the story, director Philipp Stölzl (who has co-writing credit with Christoph Silber, Rupert Henning, and Johannes Naber) created a fictional fledgling journalist, Luise Fellner (Johanna Wokalek), and a love interest between her and Kurz. What they have her do is so ludicrous that it detracts from the gripping story, which all by itself is amazing. I don’t think the silly love story does what was necessary to grab a viewer’s attention.
I like mountain climbing stories. I’ve seen many of the films based on climbing mountains, and this is by far the most realistic. In fact, the main reason to see this movie is the phenomenal cinematography. This is extreme filmmaking at its most extreme.
Stölzl shot stunt climbers on location, and then shot the actors in a studio, a large industrial freezer. A skeleton crew spent six months prior to principal photography in Switzerland shooting on the Eiger and nearby locations. The cameramen hung 70-100 feet from a ledge hundreds of feet above ground getting the stock footage. The cinematography is phenomenal. In fact, it won the German Film Academy Award for Best Cinematography.
This film is about 30 minutes too long, but it is still interesting. It’s an exhausting sit, but bring your parka.