Mesmeric documentary evokes terrifying majesty of the natural world
review by Leslie Felperin in the Guardian 2023/04/25
Long static shots of Slovenian mountains combine with ambient drones in this abstract, contemplative film that contemplates nature’s patterns
Here is a meditative documentary from Dutch film-maker Joke Olthaar that mostly consists of monochrome, long-held static shots, exquisitely filmed by cinematographer André Schreuders, of the mountains in Triglav National Park in Slovenia. It opens and closes with some airy voiceover musings about the abyss, solitude and all that jazz, and there are references to “the three of us” which chime with the three tiny, black, human-shaped blobs seen from time to time.
But for the most part, there is no palpable story or shape to the film. Olthaar occasionally mixes in what looks like Super 8 footage of climbers and walkers pictured on a more human scale, and at one point a dead body is dug out of the snow. Yet none of that human activity is given any more weight than the shots of handsome goats hanging out on the crags, or the shifting patterns of sun and shadow flickering across the vast spaces.
This is nature-based film-making taken to an almost abstract level, asking the viewer just to sit and contemplate the patterns of black, white and powdery grey that make up the mountainsides, majestic and terrifying all at once. The effect is so lulling and mesmeric that when the silence is suddenly pierced by the sound of a babbling brook of runoff water, it lands like a jump scare in a horror movie. Elsewhere there are sounds of the wind and a droning sort of background music composed by Rutger Zuydervelt that is reminiscent of the hums and crackles you might hear listening to BBC Radio 3’s Night Tracks when you’re falling asleep.
This sort of thing is not going to be to everyone’s taste but for lovers of minimalist cinema it will be a treat, especially if viewed in a cinema with proper sound and top-notch projection.
Berg is released on 28 April in UK cinemas