Let’s get this out of the way — The Mountain is unusual, introducing a surreal mystery that’s never truly explained. That’s probably a dealbreaker for a lot of people, but adventurous or curious audiences who can embrace ambiguity will find much to adore in the movie. Filmmaker Thomas Salvador stars as Pierre, a Parisian businessman who experiences a kind of midlife crisis and heads to the Alps. He calls in sick at first, but finds that something is drawing him deeper and deeper into the mountains, until he’s left his job and life in Paris in order to camp out on glaciers.
The Mountain is fittingly beautiful, capturing the majesty of the Alps and the paradoxical danger and serenity of nature at its most extreme. With long wordless stretches, the film sometimes feels like a quiet nature documentary in the guise of a character study, but develops emotional resonance when Pierre meets a chef at one of the mountain lodges and develops a stoic bond with her.
The Mountain also dares to get weird and allegorical, sometimes bringing to mind 2001: A Space Odyssey if it was a contemporary French romance. The strangeness is explored but, as previously mentioned, never truly explained, and leaves audiences musing about what it could all mean. If you don’t mind living in that uncertainty, The Mountain is a gorgeous, haunting, and very iconoclastic film that deserves your attention.
A Visually Stunning Midlife Crisis from Thomas Salvador
Thomas Salvador is blending genres in really neat ways. His delightful little 2017 film, Vincent, follows an insecure but funny guy who just happens to be a superhero (at least whenever he gets wet). It’s far from a superhero film though. Likewise, The Mountain introduces surreal fantasy (or possibly sci-fi) elements, but they’re subtle and abstract enough for the character study and romantic drama to shine through.
Salvador gives a dry but surprisingly physical performance as Pierre, a lead employee at a robotics company who suddenly abandons his life to peacefully camp on a glacier in the Alps and climb mountains. This is never really explained, even when his mother and brothers visit and try to convince him to leave.
Salvador embeds the motivation in his eyes though. There’s something quietly obsessive in him. Maybe it’s a desire to get as far away as possible from the modern world. Maybe it’s a kind of slow-motion suicide, embarking on increasingly dangerous climbs. Or maybe something out there is calling to him.
It’s almost a death drive of sorts, in the Freudian sense. Even when he’s helicoptered off the mountain for hypothermia, he secretly leaves his hospital room so that he can get back to the mountains. Part of his obsession becomes literally tangible. Pierre begins seeing lights in the mountains, something glowing beneath the snow and under all the rocks. The orange and red lights travel the mountainside like taillights from a distance. Is Pierre going insane? What is in the mountains?
The Unsolved Mysteries of Lights and Love
Well, it’s entirely up to the audience. What’s glowing in the mountains is certainly explored and played with, sometimes to a psychedelic degree, but we’re never given any exposition to officially understand it. Depending on the viewer’s interpretive angle, The Mountain could be an allegory for climate change, suicidal ideation, the search for meaning, or a variety of other things.
It’s ultimately less important than the other elements of the film, from the stunning setting and cinematography to a great performance from Louise Bourgoin as Léa. The head chef at an Alpine restaurant takes a liking to Pierre, with the spark of chemistry between them just as mysterious as the glowing lights in the Alps. Beyond attraction, one never really knows where love comes from. Why her? Why him? Another unexplained mystery.
Bourgoin is wonderful in The Mountain, fleshing out a character despite having much less screen time and dialogue than the usual ‘love interest’ in a romance movie. Léa is a competent single mother, good at her job and self-assured, and beautiful to boot. Pierre, with his salt-and-pepper hair, kind eyes, and a distracted disposition, doesn’t seem like Léa’s type, but their chemistry and warmth is undeniable and snow-melting.
Give The Mountain a Chance
Like the mysterious pull the mountains have for Pierre, The Mountain will likely have an equal pull for audiences who love snow, isolation, and indulging in ennui. The film truly transports you to a specific location, both geographically and as a mindset. Those sparse eccentrics who dream of visiting Antarctica or climbing Everest alone may discover The Mountain as their next favorite film.
Everyone else who doesn’t mind a little abstraction and unexplained plot points will surely enjoy the stunning cinematography and sweet romance tinged with fantasy at the center of the film. The Mountain almost feels like a daydream fabricated by an introverted guy in the midst of an existential crisis, but it’s much better than that implies. Whether it’s the imagery or the allegory, The Mountain may very well stick with you if you give it a chance.
From Strand Releasing, The Mountain opens on Friday, September 1st at Quad Theatre in NYC, and opens Friday, Sep. 15th at Laemmle Theatres in L.A. and surrounding areas (you can find showtimes and locations at the Laemmle Theatres website).