Free Solo – **(*)

Posted: March 20, 2019 in 2018, Documentary, USA, XX1/2

A few hours ago on National Geographic: the 2019 Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo.  The dazzling account of a climber trying to conquer the El Capitan rock in Yosemite without ropes is still playing in some theaters and there you have it on tv already. Netflix has started a weird trend.

The Oscar buzz and the trailer make you want to see this movie. The reviews are stellar as well. El Capitan is a magnificent rock to look at. Climbing it with ropes is already crazy. So, this challenge looks like something you don’t want to miss.

The actual climb is filmed really well. The makers used drones and camera’s with ultra zoom lenses. Some footage is shot by guys hanging on ropes nearby the ‘easiest’ parts. Even on a small screen, the views looking down into the valley are not for those suffering from fear of heights. It must look even more vertiginous on a big screen, but it works at home too. The editing is top-notch. They must have had hours of footage and made a great action sequence of it all.

However, this is only about 20 minutes of the documentary and it’s at the end. Before that you have an hour of typical American documentary making with a lot of blablabla and (at times meaningless) interviews of people concerned (Alex Honnold himself, his climbing buddies, the film crew, his mom, his girlfriend, other free climbers…). At one point his girlfriend stresses that she still doesn’t understand why he wants to do this: risk his life to pursue an idea/dream/obsession. In fact, almost everyone wonders why he wants to do it. Yet, nobody gives an answer. And definitely not the documentary makers. So why even bother trying to find out?

The most interesting parts are where he prepares the climb and explains where the tricky sections are. If you make a documentary about a free climber, focus on the free climbing not on his personal life. At least not if you can’t give answers as to why someone is so foolish/stubborn/suicidal to attempt such a challenge.

It’s good that they mention how many of his predecessors have died in this extreme ‘sport’. Yet at the end, the ‘hero’ of the story encourages young people to do even more extreme things. Hm. Hero is in between brackets, because there is nothing heroic about climbing a rock without gear. More than often you hear about these extreme sports fanatics who always look for the next thrill and then die while pursuing it.

It makes you wonder if they would have shown the documentary if he had fallen to his death.

A few years ago, a Flemish tv personality, who takes on challenges, climbed El Capitan with some professionals. He was a climber virgin, but prepared well. Now that was an exciting tv program! It’s below the trailer, but has no subtitles. Somehow that was more intriguing. Free Solo is worth the watch, but only the last part is really fascinating.

www.imdb.com/title/tt7775622

 

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