Monday, January 4, 2016

Meru

4/4

Starring: Conrad Anker, Jimmy Chin, Renan Ozturk

Rated R for Language

I suppose it takes a certain kind of person to climb mountains.  Being physically fit is a given.  But mentally, you gotta be a little obsessed.  And quite possibly deranged.  At least, that's my impression from movies like "Meru" and "Touching the Void."

I was recommended this movie by my best friend.  It was a kind of "quid pro quo" thing: I told him to go see "Scouts Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse" and he loved it, and then he told me to see "Meru" and I loved it.  I always meant to watch it before the new year to see if it would be a Top 10 contender, but I kept procrastinating.  I dunno.  Never got around to it, I guess.  I sincerely regret it now, since it would have been on the list at number 5.

The film details the trials and ordeals of three climbers: seasoned pro Conrad Anker, his climbing partner for the past decade, Jimmy Chin, and Conrad's protégé, Renan Ozturk.  Their goal is to climb Mount Meru, a peak in the Himalayas that's thought to be impossible because it encompasses all types of climbing, thus requiring climbers to bring 200+ pounds of gear with them.  Sleeping in a little tent hanging from the rock face is just the start of its punishment.  Their first attempt is met with failure very close to the top.  Months later, they try again.

What makes "Meru" so interesting is that climbing is a mere aspect of the story.  Directors Jimmy Chin (one of the climbers in the film) and Elizabeth Char Vasarheylyl (Jimmy's wife) are more interested in what drives them to conquer Meru.  It makes sense.  Many movies that deal with climbing concentrate of the physical aspects of it.  And considering what these three men go through, understanding their mindset goes a long way into sympathizing with their need to tackle the mountain again.  Through this aspect of the film, it sheds light on the entire climbing community.

The film, which is compiled from footage shot by Chin and Ozturk themselves. looks fantastic.  I mean, it's awe-inspiring.  Like "National Geographic" type good.  Looking online, I found that Chin has actually done some photography work for National Geographic.  "Meru" is shortlisted for Best Documentary at the 2016 Oscars, but it deserves a slot on the Best Cinematography competition as well.  Even if the film weren't absolutely riveting from beginning to end, which it most definitely is, it would be worth seeing just to look at how awesome it looks.  They take us right into the middle of their climb, and in some circumstances, before, during and after tragedy.

Documentaries get a bad rap because either they're by Michael Moore or they're done so blandly that they come across more like high school lectures rather than filmmaking.  But believe me when I tell you that this is the kind of movie that will pin you to your seat from frame one and won't let go until the end credits roll

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