Touching The Void (tbc)

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The ViewLondon Review

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Review byMatthew Turner25/11/2003

OPENS FRIDAY 12th DECEMBER

Five out of Five stars
Running time: 106 mins

Astonishing documentary that cleverly blends the participant’s re-telling of events with dramatic reconstruction footage – a compelling story of real-life human endurance, coupled with breath-taking photography and an effective soundtrack, this is an unmissable big-screen experience.

Touching the Void is a case of ‘Terrible title, terrific film’. It’s directed by British documentarian Kevin Macdonald (brother of Trainspotting producer Andrew) and uses a similar approach to his Oscar-winning One Day In September, blending static talking head shots with the real-life participants of the drama and dramatic reconstruction footage of the story itself, using climbers and actors. It’s an astonishing film and one that deserves to be seen on the big screen.

Based On The Best Seller

The film is based on Joe Simpson’s best-selling book and tells the true story of two enthusiastic mountain climbers, the middle-class, self-deprecating Simpson and northern, taciturn Simon Yates (whose oddly comical appearance means he occasionally resembles a real-life Wallace from Wallace and Gromit).

In 1985, the two friends decided to ascend the previously unclimbed 21,000 foot peak of Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. (“It was a lot BIGGER than I’d thought it would be”, muses Simpson). Being gung-ho mountaineering types, they decide to climb ‘Alpine Style’, which means setting a base camp and going up and down in one day. At least, that’s the theory…

At the start, all is well and they reach the summit by the second day. However, Simpson casually mentions that “80% of climbing accidents happen on the descent” and, sure enough, Simpson slips and breaks his leg in a truly horrifying manner. (Look away now if you’re squeamish: the shin-bone basically shoots up through his leg and takes the kneecap off with it – you may want to forgo the popcorn at this point).

The injury leaves both men with the problem of how to get back down safely and when a blizzard starts up their problems go from bad to worse, to the point where Yates makes a decision that presumably still haunts him to this day.

Dying To Boney M

The result is a thoroughly nail-biting thriller, even though you know that both men survived the ordeal because they’re on screen talking about their experience. They’re filmed separately, which also allows for interjections from Richard, the grinning backpacker-type they left guarding their camp, who offers cheerful commentary along the lines of “I thought they were both probably dead at that point”.

Luckily, both Simpson and Yates are extremely good story-tellers and there’s a lot of humour in the story, such as when Simpson gets “Brown Girl in the Ring” stuck in his head for hours and thinks “Oh God, I’m going to die to Boney M” (the soundtrack helpfully obliges and it’s a hilarious, if grim moment); or when he awakes from a delirium to see rocks everywhere and thinks “Oh. I’ve been beaten up in a pub car park AGAIN…”

To sum up, Touching the Void is an extremely impressive film that tells an astonishing story of human endurance that’s both funny and excruciating. The photography is stunning and the soundtrack adds greatly to the film, ensuring that this should be seen on the biggest screen possible. Highly recommended.

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Content updated: 23/10/2017 00:03

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