In 1979 the tagline for Star Trek: The Motion Picture boasted that, “The human adventure is just beginning.” Ironically, what made that movie compelling was its Academy Award-winning special effects and the attractiveness of new life and alien civilizations. Yet, perhaps Trek’s final invocation, to go where no man, no one, has gone before, was what became a mantra in the life of gonzo Canadian climber Marc-Andre Leclerc. The Alpinist beautifully answers the question as to why summit such dangerous peaks. For Marc-Andre, it was the human adventure.
Co-directors Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen are climbers themselves. Their talented eyes balance the wonders of the mountain top views with the dangers that one slip can bring. Fans of the Oscar winner Free Solo should seek out Mortimer’s The Dawn Wall, which is an equally-compelling documentary also filmed at El Capitan.
Here, both Mortimer and Rosen’s talents are tested with The Alpinist as free spirit Leclerc is not one who sits still. Nor does he exhibit the patience for the schedules of film crews let alone delays due to the weather. Leclerc notoriously climbs solo. He disappears, and not only when climbing. He is always seeking solitary space. When the cameras are able to capture him hard at play, the end result is spectacular.
The Alpinist follows Marc-André Leclerc on climbs in Squamish, Vancouver, treks up frozen waterfalls (Yes. Frozen. Waterfalls.) in Alberta, and tops with an historic adventure in Patagonia. Along the way the documentary celebrates the climber’s lifestyle while attempting to understand the enigmatic mind of Leclerc. Leaders in the sport are interviewed, such as Free Solo’s Alex Honnold, but it is Leclerc’s girlfriend, Brette Harrington, who reveals the true humanity – and the lust of life – blooming within Leclerc.
Marc-André Leclerc climbs alone, on remote alpine faces. No cameras, no rope, and no margin for error. Climbing for Leclerc is spiritual and brings peace to his roaming mind. He doesn’t climb for awards or notoriety. He climbs mountains for the purest of all reasons: because they are there.
Tragedy is a constant shadowy partner but Leclerc’s electric smile and positive buoyancy is a strong counteracting agent. This is a documentary. As such, there are really only two characters: Marc-André and the mountain. Both are difficult, rough, and majestic.
Mortimer and Rosen make their documentary as true to life as possible. Their cinematography is absolutely breathtaking. From closeups of pinions and crampons with their straining, clicking, and grabbing purchase on unyielding rock, to wide angle, vertigo-inducing drops and free-flying panoramas, the viewer becomes the ultimate, silent voyeur. Mortimer and Rosen prove the most amazing f/x is Mother Nature at her purest.
Jon Cooper mixes in a nice blend of acoustic guitar with electronic beats. His score is rocking at times of excitement; folksy during silent drops. However, the vistas of the scenery overshadow the musical background reducing the score to vague ambience.
Similar to other mountaineering documentaries, The Alpinist is a story of perseverance and strength. Unlike others, The Alpinist does not merely balance on the edge of triumph and tragedy, but intermixes the two into a gut-punch of a finale. Marc-André Leclerc is an incredible climber whose spirit is as indomitable as the peaks he summits. Leclerc, in all his humility, is quite the beacon for those who wish to overcome any obstacle, be it addiction, mental illness, or that mountain on the horizon. Through Leclerc, the human adventure continues.