Filmgoers who get dizzy standing at the stop of a flight of stairs will probably experience quite a bit of vertigo watching Pepe Danquart's documentary about a pair of Bavarian brothers who share a deep love for extreme mountaineering. Their feelings toward each other, however, turn out to be far more complex. In the autumn in 2005, Thomas Huber and...read more
Filmgoers who get dizzy standing at the stop of a flight of stairs will probably experience quite a bit of vertigo watching Pepe Danquart's documentary about a pair of Bavarian brothers who share a deep love for extreme mountaineering. Their feelings toward each other, however, turn out to be far more complex.
In the autumn in 2005, Thomas Huber and his brother Alexander traveled to California's Yosemite Valley to do what many climbing enthusiast have done for the past 5 decades: Scale the 3000-foot sheer granite rock formation known as El Capitan. The Yosemite brochure estimates the average climbing time at anywhere from three to five days, but Thomas and Alexander didn't come all that way for any leisurely ascent. They not only planned to follow the challenging route along the vertical protrusion known as "The Nose," they planned to break the current record: 2 hours and 48 minutes. Thomas and Alexander are speed-climbers who forgo much of the equipment -- and protection -- of ordinary climbers in order to lighten their load and beat the clock in a race to the top. It's a risky way to go that leaves climbers running on adrenaline and instinct, but the Hubers are hardly reckless: The spend several days before the scheduled event making several dummy runs of the Nose, mapping their course, camping out and predicting worst case scenarios. It quickly becomes clear that Alexander and Thomas are a unique climbing team -- brothers who are perfectly in synch with each other, even though they don't always share the same strengths as climbers -- but on the eve of the event an unforeseen complication forces them to postpone the climb. Danquart's film then takes an interesting turn. Alexander and Thomas return to their homes in the Bavarian Alps and the cracks in what seemed like the perfect sibling relationship become apparent.
Late in the film, Alexander, widely considered one of the world's best climbers, describes the sport he loves as "an absolute revolt against common sense" that gives his life meaning. It's an interesting perspective on a dangerous activity the appeal of which non-enthusiasts may have trouble understanding, and through their interviews Thomas and Alexander lend considerable light on how fear functions both on and off the mountainside. One does wish for a bit more biography on Hubers -- How do they afford to pursue their passions in such far-flung regions of the globe as Patagonia for weeks at a time? -- but the real nagging question is how, exactly, Danquart managed to film Alexander and Thomas as they scramble their way up impossibly steep cliffs at record speed. The footage is as dazzling as it is dizzying.
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