For its first half, the French movie The Mountain, which opens throughout Israel on Thursday, plays like Into the Wild, Part Deux, as it tells the story of Pierre (Thomas Salvador, who also directed and cowrote the film), a Parisian engineer who impulsively leaves a business meeting in an alpine town and starts spending his days hiking the glaciers.
We never get his backstory, so we never really know exactly why he makes this sudden U-turn in his life, but the spectacular photography makes the appeal of these mountains very clear. Given the title of the movie, as soon as he looks up from a presentation he is giving that bores him so much he can barely concentrate on his own words and sees all this beauty out the window, you can guess what is going to happen. And your guess would probably be right, up to a certain point.
Pierre calls in sick, throws away his ticket back to Paris, buys some gear, and soon is sleeping on the glacier, with a strong aversion to the idea of ever going back down the mountain. Although it isn’t spelled out, he apparently fears that if he left this magic mountain, he would be drawn back into his ordinary life.
He meets Lea (Louise Bourgoin), the chef of a restaurant at one of the mountain resorts, a beautiful single mother who agrees to do his shopping for him in the town below. His mother and his brothers arrive, supposedly to talk some sense into him, but soon he has won over his mother and one of his brothers, who see that he seems happy with his new life.
Up until here, it really is a bit like a less extreme version of the Into the Wild story, which was about a young man who drops out and goes to live off the grid in Alaska, where his ignorance of nature leads to tragic results. But Pierre isn’t so much dropping out of his ordinary life as dropping into a better and more meaningful one.
Climate change and science fiction
About halfway through, two elements come along to change the game. The first is climate change, which leads to rockslides and all kinds of problems as the snows recede. You sense Pierre’s anxiety about all of this and how the threat makes the natural beauty all the more precious to him.
The second element is a spoiler of sorts, so suffice it to say that just when you thought you knew exactly where the movie was heading, a science-fiction storyline creeps in. At first, it’s so low-key you may not realize how important it is, but soon the movie begins to play like a combination of Everest and Stranger Things. The two halves of the movie never quite fit together, and the sudden supernatural plot turn made me wonder whether a producer might have told Salvador that his simple story of a man leaving the rat race for nature might not be commercial enough.
While the story of a man who makes a major life change could have been interesting enough to be the focus of an entire movie, The Mountain suffers from pacing that is – forgive the pun – glacial. Watching the first half of the movie is much like watching those Google screen-saver slideshows, if you adjusted them to only show snow and mountains. It can be lovely to see those, but if you are interested primarily in that, you might be better off watching a nature documentary instead.
Salvador is a handsome and expressive actor, but the movie is not interested in anything but his character’s wonder over and attraction to the natural beauty he suddenly discovers.
Pierre’s story might be worth an hour, but that isn’t ordinarily considered long enough for a movie. Perhaps that is why the science-fiction elements were added in. In the end, the movie may frustrate both those interested in a thought-provoking drama about a man’s new life and the threat of climate change, and those who want some all-out sci-fi.