L’Ascension (The Climb), 2017
Directed by: Ludovic Bernard
Starring: Ahmed Sylla, Alice Belaidi, Kevin Razy, Nicolas Wanczycki, Waly Dia
How far would you go for the one you love? For Samy Diakhate (Ahmed Sylla) it’s the top of Mount Everest. After professing his love for Nadia (Alice Belaidi) he gets rejected because she is after a commitment and someone serious, unlike the unemployed Samy. He soon says he loves her so much he’d climb Everest for a kiss and a deal is made (even if she didn’t believe him at the time) and Samy begins his journey to the summit of Everest despite not having any mountain climbing experience prior. His story is also the talk of the town and gains a large amount of media following.
Considering the story going in, I was quite sceptical in seeing that it was categorised as a comedy; I felt that if it had too much comedy it’d take away from the seriousness of climbing the highest mountain on earth, but I was pleasantly surprised by it. The film managed to combine a lighter side with the serious side to a nice balance. A large part of the comedic angles comes from Samy’s relationships with the group leader Jeff (Nicolas Wancycki) and his Sherpa Johnny (Umesh Tamang); Jeff being a solid, authoritarian leader, who doesn’t care much for some of Samy’s sarcasm, and Johnny being a rather silent but constantly happy Sherpa, and the two become very close. Some of the back-and-forth dialogue is hilarious. But aside from being funny and serious, it was also emotional. I felt truly invested in his journey; I completely bought into why he was there and was rooting for him every step of the way, and when his family and friends back home hear from him for the first time in a week (he didn’t have any signal to get in touch) it hits you just how much everyone, characters and audience, are rooting for him to succeed and get the girl.
And some of the visuals of this film are breathtaking. We see plenty of panned shots of Everest, but it always cuts back to his rough home estate, which is a lovely contradiction from where he’s come from to where he is, and then there are some horrific shots of heights, including one where he has to walk across a ladder-like-bridge (after being told if he falls he’s dead) and the camera looks down and follows his feet as he walks forward. Every accidental miss-step had me hooked about what could possibly happen, knowing it’s one of the few moments where he’s not protected by a harness or a rope. But one of my favourite moments came towards the end as Samy and his new Sherpa tire (by this point a lot of the more experienced climbers have given up), and the camera pans away from them and watched as they climb up but all we can hear is heavy breathing. I don’t know what it is about this scene, but I found it beautiful.
While most of the acting is pretty solid, and props to Alice Belaidi and Maimouna Gueye (who plays Samy’s mother, Evelyne) as they have a rough journey because of their separate love for Samy, and they are each given a powerful emotional scene which I was so invested in because they both had legitimate reasons to be upset for what they were arguing about. And the acting score would have been higher if it wasn’t for Ahmed Sylla’s performance. Don’t get me wrong, he was a fine lead, but he didn’t always convey the right emotions that were needed. For one, he smiles far too much in this film. Early on I was a bit concerned by this as it really reduced the impact of climbing Everest as he was taking it as a holiday or a jolly-up of sorts, as he was constantly grinning from ear to ear. I don’t really know French actors, but Wikipedia tells me he’s not done too much in the acting world, and it is kind of evident in his performance; while okay, it wasn’t great.
And my main issue is that I didn’t really like how the film starts with him boarding a train to the airport ready to climb the mountain. There are a few flashbacks that fill in the gaps (such as him making the promise to Nadia) but I felt the story would have been better if we see the progression from their date to his promise to the climb. See Samy toy with the idea for a bit, or maybe worry about it (I’m back on him smiling again) or perhaps treat it as a joke before she inadvertently convinces him to go through with it; instead we’re presented with a man who’s ready and a quick background as to why. I get that the film is all about his climb, rather than why he is climbing, but they feature his romantic story of climbing for a girl’s love so much in the media publicity that Samy receives that it seems strange the film itself never gave it too much time at the start.
But those aside the film is very entertaining and surprisingly emotional. It’s apparently based on a true story which took away one of my other criticisms (about how it lessens the real triumphs of climbing Mount Everest if someone who has no experience can just up an do it) but I’m not entirely sure about how accurate the film is (with most articles about it being in French). Certainly one to check out (if you don’t mind a subtitled film) as it has humour, emotion and a serious plot all lovingly rolled in to one.
Plot: * * * *
Acting: * * *
Writing: * * *
Presentation: * * * *
Overall Rating: * * * ½