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North Face

Climbing for Deutschland

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars.

North Face chronicles the true story of German mountain climbers Toni Kurz and Andi Hinterstoisser as they attempt to be the first men to reach the summit of the Switzerland’s Eiger North Face, the final challenge of the Western Alps.

Philipp Stölzl’s film is beautifully shot and a breathtaking. As gripping as the climb is, the surrounding story of a journalist’s love for Toni is thin and detracting. Still, the exhilarating climb alone is enough to see this German-language film.

The film is set in 1936 against a backdrop of Nazi-ruled Germany. They are adamant that they become the first country to tackle Eiger after two men perish during an attempt. Arguably, the film’s main character is Luise (Johanna Wokalek), a rising journalist in a Nazi publication. Having grown up with Toni (Benno Fürmann) and Andi (Florian Lukas), her boss Arau (Ulrich Tukur) taps her to convince them to attempt the climb.

Considered two of the best climbers in the world, Toni and Andi decide to accept the challenge and Luise and Arau set out to report on their story. As Toni and Andi test their limits for what they love, Luise is also coming to terms with who she is and what she wants to be through her newfound friendship and apprenticeship with Arau. A seemingly nice guy, Arau is the ultimate journalist at heart, always searching for the next story. Luise relishes Arau’s interest in her budding career, but she soon has to wonder if this is truly what she wants.

There also appears to be some unspoken love between Toni and Luise, which the film unfolds well in a visual sense, but it feels distracting and unnecessary in the long run.

While Luise’s journey with Arau is somewhat interesting, it’s Toni and Andi’s climb that really makes the film. With very little character development, the eventual merging of these stories feels emotionally unfounded. It’s a pity because the climb feels so real and the consequences so dire, yet Luise ultimately feels more like an outsider to that story than the emotional core the film wants her to be.

The film really succeeds at recreating the climb in a documentary-like fashion. It feels immediate, and despite knowing little about Toni and Andi, they feel real. Stölzl pulls of the climb with aplomb, but he never quite unites it with Luise’s own struggle for success.