Peter Mortimer’s “The Alpinist” seeks to explore the idea of “Alpine-ism”; less about if you get to the top of a mountain but more about how. The focus of his documentary is the fearless, quiet, Marc-Andre Leclerc. The film documents two years of the enigmatic 23 year old’s solo climbs, notably the Emperor Face of Mount Robson and, most significantly, completing the first winter solo ascent of Torre Egger in Patagonia.
The film opens with a sweeping shot of the mountaineer single-mindedly climbing solo up the side of a snow covered mountain, zooming out to reveal how insignificant his black dot appears on the side of the white snow-covered monstrosity. Immediately you are sold on the fearlessness and extraordinary nature of this feat.
Repeatedly throughout the film drone shots emphasise how remote, how individual these endeavours are; how single-minded an Alpinist must be to achieve their lofty goals. Interviews with numerous Alpinists, peppered throughout the documentary, explore the focus and commitment of this endeavour. Our intrepid muse, Marc-Andre, is repeatedly lauded by peers for the extraordinary nature of his approach.
We are repeatedly reminded of the grandiose nature of the terrain with long shots of breath-taking vistas and close-ups of Marc-Andre attacking the snow and ice walls. However, there is no orchestral soundtrack to persuade us of the grandeur, instead, a reliance on the clack, click and scrape of ice picks and crampons is used to remind us of the danger that is being faced down. This provides an immersive soundtrack that draws you into the action.
Throughout the documentary there are numerous times where the camera gives us a view above the climber straight down the sheer rock faces, highlighting the solitude and precarious nature of this crazy endeavour.
Climbing films are what Peter Mortimer does, notably First Ascent (2006) and King Lines (2007); both also explore firsts in climbing. Writer and director of this documentary, Mortimer also narrates the majority of the film, except for when Marc-Andre takes over some of the narrating duties in his slightly dry, awkward way.
From this film I was hoping for either a narrative of how Marc-Andre journeyed to achieve the ridiculous solo ascent in Patagonia, or an exploration of what makes him so laser focused on these incredible goals. I was, instead, left feeling like I had been wowed by the magnitude of what the Alpinist Mark Andre achieved, without the joy of understanding the inner workings of the man himself.