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INTOXICATION OF THE PEAKS - Review in Le Polyester 06/06/2021


It's hard to know which category to put Berg, the very intriguing first feature film by Dutch director Joke Olthaar. Poetic documentary? Video art essay? Dreamlike disaster film? Like the three hikers we hear very briefly in the opening, before they set off to climb an imposing Slovenian mountain range, we find ourselves in the position of entering a splendid and mysterious cinematic landscape, too imposing to be reduced to a simple formula, too crazy not to lose our bearings.

Berg's magnetic black-and-white images are sometimes so slow that one wonders if one is not looking at slides. After all, how can you judge whether a shot is still when you are filming something as immovable as rock? By alternating scales to the point of vertigo, Olthaar makes us wonder about the nature of what we are seeing (religious procession? Interstellar exploration? A rescue operation?), as well as the origin and nature of the images themselves. From time to time, other images of the same massif, also in black and white, are interspersed, blurring the border between past and present.

The sensation of witnessing a secret ritual, cut off from the rest of the world, becomes more pronounced as the almost superfluous human presence gradually disappears from the film. In this deserted and majestic immensity, the hikers are only filmed from very far away, so much so that it sometimes takes a little time to make out their movements in the distance. Berg is indeed a film almost without characters, without dialogues, but not silent for all that. In addition to a surprisingly minimalist music (again, one wonders if sometimes you don't just hear a whirring sound), the film is rich in the sounds of nature, especially those of a huge wind.

In 2016, the Dutch director and visual artist Fiona Tan managed, in her documentary Ascent, to create a narrative through the simple juxtaposition of postcards of Mount Fuji. In a not-so-distant way, Joke Olthaar in turn performs this elegant paradox. And if Berg threatens at times to linger too long on a single note (however rich it may be), his unexpected denouement adds a surprisingly moving dimension.

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