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Thursday, January 19, 2012


Before Leni Riefenstahl became Hitler’s pet documentarian, she debuted as an actress in this classic Mountain Film from the genre’s master, Arnold Fanck. The films were designed as visual poems, near-abstract musings on life, fate & nature, set in barely accessible Alpine locales amid raging blizzards & spring thaws, with simple storylines adding narrative traction to the inspiring scenery. Here, Riefenstahl, who was something of a scenic wonder herself, is a professional dancer (very Isadora Duncan), who awakens the passions of two dissimilar men. With skiing master Luis Trenker, she shares a deep spiritual bond; with young Ernst Petersen, a more playful attachment. Perhaps if she knew these two were inseparable friends, mountain climbing partners closer than brothers, she might have quit her role as catalyst to their ‘bromantic’ liebestod on the South Face. Or was it all inevitable? In a film that relies so heavily on surface appeal, we’re lucky to have the lovingly restored print from Germany’s F.W. Murnau Stiftung’s out on KINO. Ravishing snowstorms in the Alps, torchlit skiers reflected as they glide past frozen waters and, of course, a ridiculously handsome cast. Fanck was a whiz at getting impossible concepts like nature's regard toward philosophy or the wisdom of eternal friendship on film. But ask him for a ski race where you can follow the contestants, a dance performance that builds to a finish, or just about anything simple & straightforward, and he was all thumbs. Still, everyone should give one of these loopy tableau dramas a shot. This one gets a skiing difficulty rating of - Safe for Intermediates.

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