- David Parkinson
Parky At the Pictures (28/4/2023)
(Reviews of Love According to Dalva; Sick of Myself; Nightmare Radio: Thee Night Stalker; Little Richard: I Am Everything; Little Richard: The King and Queen of Rock`n'Roll; and Berg)
LOVE ACCORDING TO DALVA.
Having set her award-winning short, Snatched (2016), in a foster home, Belgian director Emmanuelle Nicot locates her feature debut, Love According to Dalva, in a facility for abused children. She had herself volunteered at an emergency reception centre, but her inspiration came from a case handled by a social worker friend involving a six year-old girl who had been groomed by her own father.
Screaming in distress, as the father she calls Jacques (Jean-Louis Coulloc'h) is arrested by the police, 12 year-old Dalva Keller (Zelda Samson) has no idea why anyone would want to break up what she considers to be a loving relationship. Wearing a lace blouse and pearl earrings, and with her hair swept up into a chignon, Dalva has been moulded to suit her father's idea of bourgeois chic. As he has also kept her away from other people, she has convinced herself that she has replaced her mother in his affections and can't understand why she needs to be examined by a doctor, billeted at a shelter, and represented by a lawyer before a judge.
Despite being allowed to wear her own clothes at Givet, Dalva is teased by roommate
Samia (Fanta Guirassy) and refuses to engage with case worker Jayden (Alexis Manenti). He is furious with her for escaping using knotted sheets, but promises to try and help her contact Jacques, who is awaiting trial in Riems. Jayden also drives her to school, where her dress sense sets her apart. So, he takes her for new clothes, only for Dalva to become anxious because she has never been shopping alone before.
At school, Lucile (Fanta Guirassy) gossips about seeing Dalva's case in the paper and she is confronted for the first time with the notion that Jacques is a paedophile and that their relationship was incestuous. Removing her lipstick in the washroom, she incurs Samia's wrath for bloodying a borrowed garment with her first period. She sneers that the self-professed `woman' is little more than a baby. But, when Lucile tattles about Jacques on the bus, Samia cautions Dalva to clam up at school and only discuss her situation at the hostel, as no one will judge her there because they're all in the same boat.
Still clinging to her story, Dalva refuses to accept that Marina (Sandrine Blancke) is her mother and accuses her of abandoning them, when Jacques actually abducted his daughter and kept moving around for seven years to avoid detection. Even when she gets to see her father (after going on hunger strike) and insists upon wearing a backless lace top and full make-up for the visit, she refuses to believe that he feels shame at what they had done together. Indeed, she blames carer Zora (Marie Denarnaud) for tricking him into admitting he was a paedophile.
Coaxed out of hiding in a wardrobe by Samia (who tries to teach her to smoke), Dalva lets her hair down and returns to school determined to fit it. During a playground game of Truth or Dare, however, she takes exception to Lucile's lurid question and Samia films her beating her up. Even Jayden is forced to smile when Dalva trashes the principal's desk when she haughtily curses having to take problem children. Back at Givet, Samia shows her phone footage to the other kids and Dalva becomes an instant legend. Dimi (Roman Coustère Hachez) shows her how to dance, as she shares a bottle of booze with her new friends, while Samia teaches her how to walk like a tweenager instead of like a runway model.
Dalva is upset, therefore, when Samia is placed with an aunt, as she had come to trust her. She lends her a dress and does her make-up for a leaving do, but Samia gets cross when Dalva allows one of the boys to fondle her on the dance floor. Rushing up to their room, Dalva asks Samia what she's done wrong and is hurt when she declares that Jacques has taught her to be a whore. Needing comfort, Dalva waits until everyone has gone to bed and tries to make a move on Jayden, who pushes her to the floor in shock.
Running away again, Dalva heads for the house she shared with Jacques. Climbing in through a window, she sees how dishevelled everything is after the raid. Entering the bedroom, she hides inside the wardrobe and falls asleep. Next morning, she cuts off her long hair and asks a neighbour to call Jayden. He's relieved to see she's okay and takes her to a hairdresser so she looks smart before her mother visits. She shows Dalva old photos on her phone and a picture of her two year-old stepbrother. They agree to see each other again and Dalva is relieved when Marina holds her hand in court, as she has to look into the eyes of her abuser in the dock.
Sparing viewers the full horror of Dalva's trauma, but guiding the remarkable Zelda Samson to reveal the effects through facial expressions and body language, Nicot has produced a rite of passage that is as hard hitting as it is sensitive. It thoroughly deserved to win the International Critics' Prize at Cannes and the comparisons to former social worker Fred Baillif's study of residential care home for girls, La Mif (2021).
Discovered during an open casting session, Samson conveys the confusion of a victim whose pitilessly restricted world has been turned upside down. But there are flashes of the woman child that she has been programmed to be, as she smiles at the sight of her made-up face before the prison meeting and the way in which she attempts to entice her protector into giving her the physical and emotional reassurance she feels she needs to compensate for her roommate's imminent departure.
Authentic as such moments are, they are also chilling and Nicot (who declines to moralise in any way) similarly refuses to flinch when depicting Dalva's playground tussle with Lucile or when rejecting the mother she has been taught to believe deserted her so that her reliance on her father was all the more complete and unquestioned. Moreover, Nicot confronts us with the impact that discovery has had on Jacques, who is played as a broken penitent by the usually imposing Jean-Louis Coulloc'h.
Alexis Manenti and Fanta Guirassy provide solid support, with the former's frustration during a home-schooling lesson and his amusement at Dalva's antics in the principal's office being matched by the latter covering up Dalva wetting the bed after having the epiphanic realisation that keeping up a facade of petulant self-pity isn't going to help either of them. But this is all about Samson, who is superbly photographed in empathetic close-up by Caroline Guimbal, while credit should also go to costume designer Constance Allain for the wardrobe changes that allow Nicot to show Dalva learning to be her own age and take back her lost innocence.
SICK OF MYSELF.
Such was the impact of Joachim Trier's The Worst Person in the World (2021) that there's extra pressure on Kristoffer Borgli's sophomore outing, Sick of Myself, to sustain the strain of Norwegian nastiness and nihilistic narcissism. Mercilessly mocking the ongoing social media vogue for shameless exhibitionism, this sometimes seems to be taking pops at easy targets. It also rather blunders into its grotesque premise before the proper groundwork has been laid. But the commitment of the performances and the mingling of Jekyllesque and Cronenbergian undercurrents make this squirm-inducingly provocative.
Signe (Kristine Kujath Thorp) is a barista living in Oslo with an her artist boyfriend, Thomas (Eirik Sæther). They are first seen on her birthday, scarpering from restaurant after stealing a prohibitively expensive bottle of wine. The waiter chases Thomas, but Signe is ambivalent about the fact that he has ignored her.
She is happier to receive attention after helping a person who has staggered into the café after being bitten on the throat by a dog. Covered in blood, she doesn't know if she has saved a life or not. All that matters is that everyone is looking at her. So, when Thomas is invited to a dinner to announce the award of a major exhibition for his stolen furniture sculptures, Signe fakes a nut allergy. Her coughs are hardly convincing, but she causes a diversional fuss before breaking into a choking fit when Thomas rises to give a speech.
Determined to triumph in their game of oneupmanship, Signe asks drug dealer Stian (Steiner Klouman Hallert) to use his knowledge of the dark web to procure a large quantity of a Russian anti-anxiety medication called Lidexol, as she has read online reports about it causing a severe skin condition. As he needs to convince his mother that he has friends, Stian accepts the commission in the hope she will visit him more often.
Frustrated by the initial lack of reaction, Signe keeps popping the yellow pills until she starts to feel drowsy and nauseous. Eventually, red blotches appear on her skin and they begin to spread, as her veins rise and Thomas urges her to seek help. Even though Signe refuses to let the doctor (Anders Danielsen Lie) examine her, he recognises immediately that she is making herself ill and accuses her of having a twisted personality.
Angry with Thomas for opting to be interviewed by a high-profile magazine rather than collect her from her appointment, Signe takes an overdose of Lidexol and has to be hospitalised. On being discharged, she shames Thomas into taking care of her, even though he has to prepare for his exhibition.
Browbeaten by her mother, Signe attends a support group for those with chronic conditions. However, she ends up arguing with a member who questions the authenticity of her ailment and she decides to seek publicity for herself under the guise of raising awareness of her rare disfigurement. She revels in being interviewed, but is distraught when a shooting knocks her off the front page.
A national newspaper picks up her story, however, and Signe is approached by Lisa (Andrea Bræin Hovig), a modelling agent intent on goading the fashion industry into embracing inclusivity. Realising that her newfound celebrity means that she will have to keep taking the tablets, Signe tries to ignore the after-effects. Between daydreams, she also strives to ensure she hogs the limelight. Consequently, when she is hired to do a museum shoot for a trendy clothing range, she locks a model with symbrachydactyly in the bathroom. However, she collapses on the set and later learns that Thomas has been arrested after an employee at a furniture shop recognises him as the chair thief after seeing his picture on a magazine cover.
Alone and unhappy, Signe seeks solace from her reporter friend, Marte (Fanny Vaager) by confiding that she is not a victim, but the instigator of her own situation. Dismissed as a freak who has exploited everyone around her, she drifts back to the support group. But she hasn't learnt her lesson and once again indulges in fabrication to earn some much-needed pity.
Despite being buried beneath bandages and the hideous make-up devised by Dimitra Drakopoulou and Izzi Galindo, Kristine Kujath Thorp gives Worst Person star Renate Reinsve a good run for her money in creating an eminently resistible character. The problem with Signe, however, is that she's caught between body horror and broad satire, with the result that her plight always feels too implausible to send shivers or raise smiles.
By dwelling on Signe's physical state, Borgli neglects the psychological motivations for such reckless self-abuse. In truth, she doesn't have a self and the creation of a monster is as much to teach the world a lesson for not noticing her as it is to reflect her misery and insecurity. By making Thomas equally conceited, the script offers Signe a crumb of comfort. But it's her warped sense of self-perception and her craving for infamy that prompt her actions rather than his behaviour. Yet, in our image-obsessed culture, she becomes perversely empathetic, as for all her excesses, she remains grimly human and as shallow and selfish as the rest of us.
NIGHTMARE RADIO: NIGHT STALKER.
Horror anthologies have been with us for over a century. Among the earliest, and the best, are Richard Oswald's Eerie Tales (1919) and Paul Leni's Waxworks (1924), which were both made in Weimar during the heyday of German Expressionism. Britain made a worthy contribution with the Ealing portmanteau, Dead of Night (1945), which gave rise to the collections sponsored by Amicus in the 1970s. Hollywood eventually cottoned on to the form in the 1980s, with the likes of George A. Romero's Creepshow (1982), which recycled some Stephen King short stories, and John Harrison's Tales From the Dark Side: The Movie (1990), which was spun off from a TV series that long competed for ratings with Tales From the Crypt.
Inconsistency between the vignettes is a given for genre fans. But the standard is pretty low - with two notable exceptions - in Nightmare Radio: The Night Stalker, which is now available in various home entertainment formats in the wake of the modest success of A Night of Horror: Nightmare Radio (2019).
Directed by Carlos Goitia, the wrap-around story centres on Candy (Paula Brasca), the host of a graveyard shift radio show in which callers relate horror stories. She's dismissive of most of the tales (which is unfortunate, as they make up the rest of the movie), but can't shake off Jack (Agustin Olcese), who has taken umbrage at Candy for skedaddling from a bar after he had bought her an expensive bottle of wine. The tone is decidedly misogynist throughout, with Jack's rapacious ultimatum being particularly dismaying. But, as this entirely predictable saga plays out, this would-be Ripper realises he's picked on the wrong damsel.
The opening slot is filled by Ryan J. Thompson's `Playtime', which sees a woman (Anjella Mackintosh) being terrorised in the middle of the night by a spectre (Belle Mary Hithersay) who makes all of the electrical appliances flicker on and off in a disconcerting manner. It's slickly shot and edited by Thompson and apparently won a clutch of awards when it was made in 2013. But it's hardly original or frightening.
Much more effective is Lorcan Finnegan's `Foxes', which dates back to 2011 and anticipates themes that would be explored at greater length in the 2019 feature, Vivarium. Resentful at being trapped in the only occupied house in a ghost estate, Ellen (Marie Ruane) withdraws from workaholic husband James (Tom Vaughan-Lawlor) and becomes intrigued by the foxes who scavenge in their bins. Making superb use of the location, this Celtic Tiger parable was scripted by Garret Shanley and deserves better than to be recycled in this sub-par selection.
Nathan Crooker's `Playback' follows a man (Corey Scott Rutledge) who sees images on his television set of a woman (Heather Driscoll) resisting a hooded attacker (Tristan Chase) on a corridor in his apartment block. On going to investigate, he stumbles into the assault in real time. Ingeniously filmed in one take, this seemingly went viral after being posted online in 2015. However, it feels rather slight and its concept has since been expanded upon in Junta Yamaguchi's Beyond the Infinite Two Minutes (2020),
Dating back to 2014, Adam O'Brien's `Insane' joins film director Chad Winchester (Andrew Fleming) on a tour of an abandoned psychiatric hospital where several members of the family of guide Sarah Davis (Shannon Lahaie) had worked. Unfortunately, the ghost of Nurse Mary Weaver (Meghan McNicol) recognises her as the descendent of the doctor who had killed her baby. The jerky camerawork and jittery editing are proficient enough, while the effects for the guillotining window climax are commendable. But one can't help wondering what kind of film-maker scouts locations by torchlight at night?
The darkness enhances the unsettling occurrence that unfolds in Mia Kate Russell's 2017 short, `Liz Drives'. Australian sisters Liz (Sophia Davey) and Ellie (Cassandra Magrath) are driving to see their mother when they stop at a remote store for some chewing gum. As Liz looks on, Ellie is approached by Marcus (Christopher Kirby), who bundles her into the backseat of a car that is already occupied by Samantha (Ann Bradney-George), who turns and looks out of the rearview mirror in distress. Calling the cops, Liz flees what she presumes is an Aboriginal predator. Yet, when she drives back to see what has happened to Ellie, she makes a heartrending discovery.
Packing a number of themes into seven minutes, this gut-punch story confirms Russell (who is also a make-up artist) as a talent to watch. In addition to the stand-alone shorts, Auditioning Fanny (2012), Swallow (2013), and Maggie May (2018), she also had Death By Muff (2014) anthologised in ABCs of Death 2.5 (2016). There is a gap in the logic, as surely Ellie would have called out to Liz if the situation had been an emergency rather than something more menacing. But such is the potency of the car crash finale that it would have made a better sign-off than David M. Night Maire's nevertheless gruesome `Chateau Sauvignon', which has had its title trimmed from the original, Chateau Sauvignon: terroir (2015).
Nicolas (Michael Lorz) seems a devoted son, as he feeds his ailing mother, Eartha (Pooya Mohseni), and helps grumpy father Patrick (Sean Weil) in their vineyard. However, when obnoxious mother-son tourists Katherine (Nancy Nagrant) and Anthony (Anthony Del Negro) arrive on closing time, he reveals a darker side while showing them the anthropophagic nature of their wine
Concluding with Candy's showdown with Jack, this could easily be dismissed as a rattlebag culled from the darker recesses of YouTube. The age of some of the shorts matters less than the diversity of their content and style. Yet, this will appeal primarily to horror aficionados, who will doubtless scour the Internet for other titles by the contributors.
LITTLE RICHARD: I AM EVERYTHING & LITTLE RICHARD: THE KING AND QUEEN OF ROCK`N'ROLL.
We're just being spoilt this week, as no sooner has the BBC aired James House's Little Richard: The King and Queen of Rock'n'Roll than Lisa Cortés's Little Richard: I Am Everything arrives in cinemas. They tell much the same story with a near-identical emphasis and even share a couple of contributors. What's more, each boasts a Beatle and a Rolling Stone. It's impossible to recommend one over the other, so why not see both?
The essential facts bounce between each profile. One of 12 children, Richard Wayne Penniman was born in Macon, Georgia in 1932. He sang in the church choir, but his deacon father so disapproved of his homosexuality that he administered beatings before turfing him out of the house at 15. As a devotee of guitar-playing gospel singer, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Richard honed his craft on the Chitlin Circuit, where he came under the influence of openly gay musician Billy Wright (from whom he borrowed the pancake make-up, toothbrush moustache, and pompadour) and Eskew `Esquerita' Reeder, from whom he took his dynamic stand-up piano style.
Ditching his late 40s drag persona, Princess LaVonne, the newly named Little Richard attached his star to Louis Jordan's `Caldonia' and cut unsuccessful records for RCA's Victor and Camden labels and for Peacock Records before his persistence prompted someone at Specialty Records to listen to his demo tape in 1955. Frustrated by efforts to make him sound like Ray Charles or Fats Domino, Richard went to the Dew Drop Inn, where he belted out the self-penned `Tutti Frutti' and his producers knew they had a hit on their hands.
Here is where the problems started to arise, however. Richard was persuaded to exchange the original lyric (which celebrated anal sex) to something more airwave-friendly that was co-written by Dorothy Labostrie. Indeed, it was so sanitised that Pat Boone was able to appropriate it and take it much higher up the charts because radio stations were happier to have the clean-cut, white and decidedly straight crooner assault eardrums with `A-wop-bop-a-loo-mop-a-lop-bam-boom!' than a consciously camp and combustibly subversive African American who encouraged kids to disregard segregation barriers.
Chuck Berry would also suffer from the racism of the American music industry, as Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, Buddy Holly, and The Everly Brothers were packaged to make `the devil's music' more acceptable to parents whose offspring had decided that Mickey Rooney's screen character, Andy Hardy, was no longer their teenage role model. But Richard received little credit for creating the new sound, even though he had a string of hits like `Good Golly, Miss Molly', `Rip It Up', "Slippin' and a Slidin'", `Ready Teddy', `Lucille', and `Long Tall Sally', as well as the theme tune to 20th Century-Fox's musical comedy, The Girl Can't Help It (1956), which wowed future film director John Waters in Baltimore. Moreover, Specialty withheld his royalties, while the humiliation of touring in the South got him down. But it was his conviction that God was speaking to him after he saw angels holding up his plane en route to Australia that prompted Richard to quit at the height of his fame in 1957.
Disturbed by the satanic accusations levelled against rock`n'roll by frightened right-wingers desperate to discredit Black America at every opportunity in order to keep them in their place, Richard enrolled at Oakwood College in Huntsville, Alabama, to study theology. Having previously been intrigued by Sir Lady Java and besotted with Lee Angel, he also married Ernestine Harvin, a secretary from Washington, DC, and started recording gospel albums. On a tour of Britain, however, he was bowled over by the enthusiasm for his music of a Liverpudlian combo named The Beatles, and, much to the delight of Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, he resumed his rock persona alongside them at the Star Club in Hamburg.
On his next visit, Richard encountered The Rolling Stones and Mick Jagger and Keith Richards are also eager to credit him with shaping their transition away from the blues, a shift that ruinously distressed the band's founder (as we shall shortly see in Nick Broomfield's The Stones and Brian Jones). As his act became more flamboyant as the 60s swung on, Richard flirted more brazenly with his queerness. His costumes would influence glam rock in the early 1970s, with everyone from Marc Bolan and David Bowie to Elton John, Freddie Mercury, Michael Jackson, and Prince adopting his distinctive swagger.
The hits had long dried up. But audiences only wanted to hear the oldies anyway and Richard turned to hard drugs to get him through a punishing schedule of gigs and orgies. The Bible was never far from his side, however, and he re-embraced his faith with a fervour that prompted him to claim he had been converted away from homosexuality. As Keith Winslow says in the Cortés film, Richard was as much running away from himself, as he was running towards God. To many, he betrayed the LGBTQIA+ community, but Sir Lady Java accepts that Richard simply wasn't strong enough to bear the burden. As scholar Jason King puts it, he was better liberating other people than he was himself.
Attending to his soul didn't pay well, however, and he started chasing Specialty for unpaid royalties. Label historian Billy Vera
notes that owner Art Rupe insisted Richard had forfeited future fees when he broke his three-year contract in 1957. But Black artists were initially spurned by MTV, even though their influence on rock history was incalculable. Legendary producer-performer Nile Rodgers repeats in both films the story of David Bowie knocking on his door to demand that his Let's Dance album sounded like Little Richard.
Following the publication of his autobiography, Richard became a regular on the chat show circuit. Here he mischievously refused to hide his light under a bushel in claiming to be the architect of rock`n'roll. Yet, when he was inducted into the Rock`n'Roll Hall of Fame alongside his peers, he missed the ceremony because of injuries sustained in a car crash.
Ethnomusicologist Fredara Hadley declares this a backhanded compliment, as it implied that Richard was a thing of the past and not as important as the white acts that followed in his wake. But he refused to be consigned to history, as he demonstrated at the 1988 Grammy Awards (an incident that features in both documentaries), he declared himself three times to be the winner of the Best New Artist category. Just look at the peevish confusion on the face of New York Doll David Johansen (in his Buster Poindexter guise), as Richard disarmingly chides the entire American music industry for failing to recognise his cornerstone genius.
When he performed, he stuck to gospel, although he occasionally rocked it up. This typified the walking contradiction that made him so divinely human. But there was often anger and wounded pride behind the tomfoolery and he used occasions like Otis Redding's 1989 induction into the Hall of Fame to perform `I Can't Turn You Loose' in such a way that no one could miss his contention that rock is his invention and will remain so no matter how much white spin is put on the facts.
As we see Richard singing "Send Me Some Lovin'", academic Zandria Robinson and actor-singer Billy Porter argue that the queer Blacks who forged rock`n'roll have been subjected to cultural obliteration rather than appropriation. It's hard to argue against this in the American context, but The Beatles and The Rolling Stones always made clear their debt to Little Richard and Chuck Berry and urged fans to check out the original recordings. Consequently, Richard remained as fond of them as he was of such African American discoveries as James Brown, Billy Preston, and Jimi Hendrix. It's also somewhat reductive to portray The Beatles as profiteering transatlantic pirates who heartlessly plundered Black rock treasures, as their influences extended to show tunes, folk, country, comic songs, nursery rhymes, classical, and the avant-garde, as well as jazz, calypso, gospel, and the blues. Nevertheless, the point is well made and should cut deep with anyone who listens to the music of the last seven decades.
In 1997, Richard received the Award of Merit at the American Music Awards and he proclaimed himself to be the emancipator, the originator, and the architect of rock`n'roll - and how right he was! Everything that followed has its roots in his music and persona. Moreover, he gave everyone in the world permission to be themselves. There can be no greater legacy.
Notwithstanding the differences in their socio-intellectual origins and musical emphases, these excellent documentaries, taken together, offer as rounded an insight into Little Richard as both man and myth. House essentially opts for a celebratory nostalgic tone, while Cortés is more exploratory, justificatory, and condemnatory. She has many more speakers testifying from the various stages of Richard's long and winding journey, but he has Pat Boone straining to explain away the racial politics that had underpinned the business logic of his calculating easy listening covers of Richard's hits. But, superbly abetted by their respective editors, Shane McCormack and Nyneve Laura Minnear and Jake Hostetter, the directors take Richard seriously and concur that he retains an air of mystery, as he was too buffeted by the traumas of his life and the maelstrom of his fame ever to come fully to terms with himself and his place in the grander scheme of things.
Something of a companion piece to Australian Jennifer Peedom's Mountain (2017), Dutch debutant Joke Olthaar's Berg is both a rumination on the forbidding beauty of vertiginous peaks and a reminder that being next to Nature can also bring us close to Death.
Following brief utterances voiced by Magdaléna Tomáškova, Krunoslav Kobešcak, and Mátyáz Fazekas, we find ourselves in the Triglav National Park in Slovenia with Olthaar and cinematographer André Schreuders. What follows is a monochrome son et lumière show, in which the sound design fashioned by Hugo Dijkstal is complemented by the lowering electronic score composed by Rutger Zuydervelt.
Editor Katarina Türler judiciously alternates between static long takes and shorter snippets to allow the viewer to be awed by the expanse of the mountain vistas and intrigued by the close-ups of specific rock formations. Schreuders is particularly adept at catching the play of light on the rugged terrain, as passing clouds block and reveal the sun. But he also picks out birds singing in trees, goats perching on rocky outcrops, and flowers growing in the cracks of sheer faces.
On the soundtrack, cracks of thunder, torrential downpours, wisps of wind, and the sudden rushing of a stream cascading over the rocks compete with pools of silence. Every now and then, moving figures appear in the distance as black dots, which recall the specks of humanity dwarfed by the majesty of the world's highest mountain in J.B.L. Noel's The Epic of Everest (1924). Even more dramatic, as the light fades, are the juxtapositions of crunching boots and torch beams, as hardy souls trudge into the night.
One spectacular section centres on a tempestuous nocturnal storm, with bolts of lightning jagging across the sky pre-empting the cacophonous roars of thunder and the relentless pounding of the rain. The next morning, however, all that can be heard is the gentle sound of thaw drips splotting on to stone. Grumbling rumbles build during the day, though, as billows of smoke-black clouds scud over jutting peaks. Then, out of nowhere, doughy white clouds rise ominously from behind the crags and obscure them completely.
We see a single deer romping across the snow before Türler cuts to a long shot of blackened mountains in which its impossible to discern between snow and clouds. The wind whistles, but we can still hear the cawing of four crows gossiping on a pinnacle. A helicopter whirrs overhead and can briefly be seen hovering through the clouds.
Somewhat abruptly, the meticulously composed tripod views are replaced by handheld point-of-view shots, as Schreuders scrambles over some loose rocks. Archive footage is intercut (including a brief glimpse of some colour) to show climbers taking great pains to recover the bodies of those who had perished in the unforgiving terrain. A couple of shots peering tentatively into chasms remind us of the peril in which the crew placed themselves in order to record their images. But Olthaar reverts back to imposing long shots for the closing images, which reinforce their timeless massiveness and our transient insignificance.
Specious voiceovers apart, this is a spellbinding snapshot of our glorious planet doing what it does best - humbling us. Olthaar and Schreuders spent over 40 days at 2500 metres high altitude lugging both a 16mm and a digital camera around with them, as well as their lenses, tripod, camping gear, and supplies. A documentary about their expedition would be intriguing, especially as the Dutch duo endured some testing weather conditions on the range and often had to make do with tiny huts for shelter.
But this almost abstract meditation exerts its own fascination. The inserted footage of a frozen corpse being chipped from the compacted snow is deeply poignant. Thanks to the work of colourist Reinier van Brummelen, however, every shot has a lyrical beauty. He cites the landscape photography of motion picture pioneer Eadweard Muybridge as an influence on his work, while Olthaar has credited Artavazd Peleshian's Seasons of the Year (1975), Werner Herzog's The Dark Glow of the Mountains (1985), and James Benning's 13 Lakes (2004) among her inspirations.
The reference to the latter suggests that Berg might work well as a gallery installation. But it belongs on a giant IMAX screen to do real justice to the intrepidity of the film-makers and the mesmeric immersiveness of the imagery.