Nature documentary shows awe-inspiring mountain range as a sighing and creaking monster ★★★★☆
In the Slovenian mountains, director Joke Olthaar occasionally films three hikers, human dots, but always in the distance, as if to put things in perspective. Berend Jan Bockting 17th of november 2021
There is a moment when, as a hiker or climber in the mountains, you can be seized by the feeling that the heights and depths are one. The voiceovers, added only at the beginning and end of the mighty nature documentary Berg, largely set the tone for what is seen in the intervening minutes. Without appearing on screen themselves, we hear mountaineers talk about the magic of hiking a whole day without meeting anyone, about heights and depths fused together.
Documentary maker Joke Olthaar (who earlier made a short documentary portrait of the Rotterdam singer-songwriter Harry Merry) travelled to the Triglav National Park in Slovenia to not only visualise that mountainous landscape, but also to film the experience that the climbers talk about. With mostly static images, shot in crisp black and white by André Schreuders, Berg first brings the details of the environment to life. Cracks in the rocks, rushing waterfalls, a mountain path that meanders into the clouds. Sometimes the images linger for a moment - if you look closely, you will see three climbers crawling slowly along like little black dots. Then the pace of the images suddenly picks up again, as if to suggest the outlines of a plot or story.
The multiple levels on which the documentary works are Berg's great strength. At first glance, this is a glorified meditation, a film of the senses that, like the best Hollywood blockbusters, should preferably be viewed on the biggest possible screen or canvas. The rarefied ambient soundtrack by Rutger Zuydervelt, better known as Machinefabriek, drags you into a trance with sounds that seem to emerge from the deepest caverns of the rock formations.
Those who feel invited to look between the images see a film full of hidden events. The humbling beauty of the mountain landscape eventually transforms into something dark. Mist, rain and thunder transform the idyll into a kind of horror film setting: the mountain as a sighing and creaking monster.
Those three little dots, in other films with a human-versus-nature theme undoubtedly the protagonists in a compelling story of fate, never get a face. It is a daring premise that works out well: the balance of power in Berg is fixed from the start.