It's 1936 Germany and with the Olympic Games close at hand the Nazi party is seeking new Aryan idols. Climbers from all over Europe head for the unconquered north face of the Eiger, in Switzerland's Bernese Alps. The first to the top will be presented with gold medals and lots of glory. Among the climbers are Bavarians Toni Kurz (Benno Fürmann) and Andi Hinterstoisser (Florian Lukas). When the patriotic editor of the Berliner Zeitung, Henry Arau (Ulrich Tukur), discovers his intern Luise Fellner (Johanna Wokalek) is a school friend and possible former flame of Kurz, he smells a propagandist story for the Fatherland.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
A remarkable true story, North Face is another dramatic demonstration that sport and politics are indeed often fused, welded together by man's triumphalist nature. The Olympics, of course, represents the peak of such opportunities, and Nazi Germany was always well aware of the power of athletic gold. Mountaineering stories are always gripping, and when well made, films like Touching the Void and North Face take us safely into deadly danger. Near the end of this film, the tension is almost tangible.
The basic story of a German challenge to conquer the unconquered, daunting North Face of the Eiger is rounded out with a story about a previous romantic relationship that still has a few glowing embers. Toni Kurz (Benno Fürmann) evidently had an affair with Luise Fellner (Johanna Wokalek), who now works in a Berlin newspaper office as a secretary. When her editor, Henry Arau (Ulrich Tukur) discovers this link, he takes her to the mountain, where she proves useful as the photo-journalist - and he hopes to use their relationship as part of the front page story of German success. Toni and his climbing partner Andi Hinterstoisser (Florian Lukas) are driven by the challenge of the mountain, not the political possibilities, but their goal is the same: be the first to the top.
Italians and French teams are also after the prize, but it becomes evident that the Eiger - the Ogre of the mountains with a monstrous record of dealing out death - and its climate, even in the middle of Europe's summer (July) is indeed a monster.
Director Philipp Stölzl gives us a few breathers from the extreme tension by cutting back from the nerve wracking climb amidst a snowstorm to the luxury hotel below, where Arau and Luise are based. That is until things go badly wrong and Luise sets off to try and help, using the amazing mountain railway with exit passages that come tantalisingly close to the climb route.
The craftsmanship in the film is exceptional and the drama unfolds within its political context in a totally satisfying way. Performances are all excellent, and the editing superb, with a rich, dramatic score to propel the film.
Review by Louise Keller:
A thrilling adventure about mountains, war and love, North Face grips us as tightly as the pitons that grip the precipitous edge of the Eiger. Directed by Philipp Stölzl, the story is based on true events in 1936, when pressure mounted for a German mountaineer to be the first to ascend the 'Wall of Death'. The story has a bit of everything, but it is the conflict between man and nature in the film's second half that holds all the trumps.
"You can be the best but it's still a lottery," says Benno Fürmann's mountain climber Toni Kurz, when talking to his climbing partner Andreas Hinterstoisser (Florian Lukas) about the climb. Brought up in Berchtesgarden in Bavaria, theirs is a comfortable partnership as they conquer slopes where only eagles dare. We know from the very beginning of the film, when we meet Johanna Wokalek's Luise Fellner, a rookie photo journalist in the newsroom of Berlin's daily newspaper, that she has more than a superficial interest in the two men. Her editor-in-chief boss Henry Arau (Ulrich Tukur) has a nose for a story and he sniffs out her connection to Toni and Andi.
The first part sets the scene, the historic context and the chemistry between Luise and Toni. It is not until we are on the mountain when we find the sun may shine for a minute, but then a deadly blizzard suddenly hits. After all, the legend tells of an Ogre (or Eiger) that lives in the mountain and 'devours everyone who gets too close'. Come in a train; leave in a coffin, the locals say.
Toni and Andi have taken time off under the false pretences that Toni is getting married; his bride is 3,970 meters high and is all rock and ice. The contrast couldn't be greater between the light hearted conversations by the onlookers at the comfortable hotel and the plight of the mountaineers facing enormous challenges. There's an accident, a snowstorm, a selfless act and the unexpectedness that the elements deliver. The cinematography is staggering as the harshness of nature with is jagged peaks is revealed. Our hearts are in our mouths throughout the final hour as the story reaches its dramatic and climactic peak. But the success of the film lies in the culmination of the elements and Stölzl manages to chill us to the very core emotionally, as we become involved in nature's drama.
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NORTH FACE (M)
CAST: Benno Fürmann, Florian Lukas, Johanna Wokalek, Georg Friedrich, Simon Schwarz, Ulrich Tukur, Erwin Steinhauser, Branko Samarovski, Petra Morzé, Hanspeter Müller
PRODUCER: Benjamin Herrmann, Gerd Huber,Danny Krausz, Rudolf Santschi, Boris Schönfelder, Kurt Stocker, Isabelle Welter
DIRECTOR: Philipp Stölzl
SCRIPT: Christoph Silber, Philipp Stölzl, Rupert Henning, Johannes Naber
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Kolja Brandt
EDITOR: Sven Budelmann
MUSIC: Christian Kolonovits
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Udo Kramer
RUNNING TIME: 121 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Rialto
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: February 18, 2010