Tuesday 24 March 2009

Visceral thrills - North Face and The Wrestler

Seeing films one up against the other is one of the great pleasures of a festival. It's a random process which can throw up some interesting juxtapositions.

Living near Ludlow, I've seen North Face followed by The Wrestler in the space of a couple of days. They're both in their very different ways about extreme physical exertion - competitiveness pushed to the limits - about display and technique. I know nothing about mountain-climbing but the sequence in North Face in which the German climbing team accomplishes the traverse is truly breath-taking.

Achievement is measured by physical marks. In North Face it's a case of making marks on the mountain, hammering in pitons for the ropes in order to claw a few feet higher. And the climbers are dwarfed by it. As one of the wise old guides points out, it's not called Eiger (Ogre) for nothing. It looms above the hotel where the spectators wait, cruelly and randomly transformed by weather conditions and light.

Turning to the The Wrestler it's the fighters themselves - and Mickey Rourke's Randy 'The Ram' in particular - who provide the presence. He is colossal with his gleaming, steroid-pumped body and flowing mane and its his scars, carefully displayed and catalogued to young fans, that bear witness to a life in the ring.

As we see, many of the cuts are self-inflicted, the stunts theatrical, just as the young climbers choose to subject themselves to indescribable hardship in order to attain their goal; it doesn't diminish the pain or reduce the spectacle. Gripping stuff.

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