The Alpinist (2021) - 8/10
There’s some great documentaries about climbing. Free Solo, Valley Uprising, The Dawn Wall and now the Alpinist. Marc-André Leclerc is introduced to us near the peak of a frozen rock-face in a beautiful snowy wilderness as Alex Honnold on an audio clip says “this guy is crazy”. When Honnold says that, well, you listen. This follows director Peter Mortimer (and Nick Rosen), himself a climber, filming Leclerc for two years. These guys don’t often get their feats recorded. They just go out and climb, but this is changing. Climbing’s profile is on the rise, thanks to films like Free Solo and footage now easily shared on social media. Not of Leclerc though it seems. He’s more of an enigma. Until now at least. He’s very unassuming. 23 years old. No ego. No money. No phone. Living in a tent, by choice! and just full of enthusiasm for climbing. We meet him in a place called Squamish, climbing Mecca in Canada. Full of like minded souls who are all similar in temperament. It’s really chilled… on the ground at least. There are no ropes on the mountains of course. Every shot sets your teeth on edge. Not for Leclerc though, he doesn’t seem to sense the danger. He’s just looking to “have a casual fun adventure and cruise around”. He’s different from you and I. Do not watch this if you suffer from vertigo. The perspective shots are terrifying, but like all previous climbing docs, it’s these shots that make them special. Marc- Andre’s story is interesting in itself though. He seems to be an obsessive type. Losing himself on acid, before deciding that maybe that wasn’t healthy. Meeting his girlfriend Britt, also a climber and rekindled his love of climbing. It’s still that solo escape that drives him though. So we’re off to the Canadian Rockies, for some ice climbing. To the uninitiated that’s climbing frozen waterfalls! It’s utterly insane!! I can barely watch and I audibly gasp, over and over. You can hear Mortimer too with his camera saying “Holy shit”. As wild as free climbing is. At least you can watch with a sense that the climber is feeling the wall, sensing, there’s a visible bond. This though, on ice or mixed terrain is done with ice hooks and crampons. That disconnect just takes it to a whole new level. Plus he’s doing it without gloves! In freezing temperatures! This guy has mind boggling amounts of skill, bolstered by an unfathomable zen like calm. Mortimer handles it perfectly. Letting long sequences play out, shots are allowed to breathe… even if I’ve stopped. The photography is stunning. Not just for the environment, but the angles that Mortimer captures. You really get an incredible sense of just how special Leclerc is. He’s fascinating and complex. His mum and friends provide some back story, but there’s plenty from Mortimer too via narration about the process of the film. Most notably when, overwrought by the attention he’s getting, Leclerc vanishes. How do you make a film about a bloke who doesn’t really care about being filmed? Well you just hang on. It might not have magic of Free Solo, it feels more raw. The climbs though are bigger than anything I’ve seen put on film before. Mount Robson, Torre Egger in Patagonia (where cameraman Austin Siadak takes over the capture), a lot of the film is given over to these impossible climbs. That might be what brings a lot of viewers to this, but there’s more, so much more. It’s emotional stuff and warning that this really packs a hell of a punch. It’s beautiful though. Capturing an amazing human being doing something he truly loves.