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Touching the Void (15)



Review by: Oli Burley | Rating: Two

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: None listed at present

CLIMBING is lunacy in my book, but Touching the Void proves that, in extreme cases, mountaineers do deserve a foothold in our admiration.

This men-against-mountain true story is, to be more accurate, about a harrowing descent made by Brits, Joe Simpson and Simon Yates, in the Peruvian Andes, in 1985.

After scaling the previously unclimbed West Face of Siula Grande, their journey back down becomes a struggle for survival that makes you think twice about wishing for a white Christmas.

The feature-documentary, produced for Film Four, allows the duo to retell their own account of the venture alongside a dramatic reconstruction, but it flounders at first, as if stuck in powder snow.

Climbing is 'fun', we learn, the mountain looks 'big'. But, as the expedition starts to go wrong, this matter-of-fact approach helps to highlight that these are indeed ‘next-door’ men trapped in exceptional circumstances.

The problems begin when Simpson falls, breaking his leg – an accident that he reflects, with delicious understatement worthy of England rugby union coach, Clive Woodward, 'was not in our game-plan'.

With no chance of rescue, and the weather worsening, Simpson is body-bag material, but his partner heroically attempts to lower him down the mountain before finally having to admit defeat.

Yates inadvertently leaves Simpson dangling over a 100ft drop and to save himself from being dragged to his own doom, condemns his friend to what seems a certain death by cutting the rope that binds them.

But as he trudges back to Base Camp, Simpson’s own miraculous story – three and a half days of physical and psychological fortitude - is only just beginning.

Stranded in a colossal crevasse, desperate for nourishment, frostbitten and in excruciating pain, Simpson - who fetchingly describes himself as 'insanely stubborn' - is confronted by death.

Stripped of all dignity, it is his will – and his indignant desire not to die with a Bony M track playing repeatedly in his mind – that somehow keeps him going against the unyielding force of nature, whose beauty and power are captured magnificently.

Director, Kevin MacDonald, thankfully dwells on Simpson’s degradation, layer by layer, rather than the technicalities of the climb and, as a consequence, enhances the film’s emotional and spiritual impact.

That approach also ensures that, despite the pair’s successful quest for glory, it is the triumph of the human spirit that deserves the greatest acclamation.

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