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The Holy Mountain
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A strange and beguiling romance that launched the career of Leni Riefenstahl, The Holy Mountain is the greatest of Arnold Fanck's legendary "mountain films," in which dramatic intrigues are played out against the breathtaking backdrop of the German Alps. Enthralled by the scenic majesty and heaving power of nature, an alluring dancer (Riefenstahl) seeks the man of her dreams in a small mountain village. There she encounters a reclusive climber (Louis Trenker) and a young skier (Ernst Peterson), who are each pursuing their own elusive ideals amid the intoxicating beauty and treacherous dangers of the Alps. Riefenstahl, who would later direct the controversial Triumph of the Will and Olympia, no doubt acquired her fascination with the Ubermensch while working on this lofty morality tale, and developed an eye for the striking compositions for which she would later become famous.
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Whether you'll find the late Ms. Riefenstahl's dancing impressive or hilariously galumphing is another matter, and a clue to how you'll react to the storyline as a whole, since it's unadulterated 19th century romanticism, full of titanic emotions and urges which to modern eyes, border at times on the psychopathic. The point of the mountain film genre was that it involved Nietszchean supermen and women going one-on-one with the mountain and the abyss; and though it's a little too easy to read the coming of the Nazis into any German film of the 20s, it's less of a stretch than most to see it in the uncritical admiration of the heroically self-destructive urges of some of these characters. (Riefenstahl, of course, would go on to be the most notable filmmaker of the Nazi era, while Trenker, the embodiment of German manhood in this era, would work internationally and bow out of the business as the 30s progressed, rather than support the Nazi effort-- in fact, several of his mid-30s films manage at least mild condemnations of Nazi attitudes.) However you react to the characters and the film, it certainly offers a window on the time and culture from which it came.
Karl (Luis Trenker) and Vigo (Ernst Petersen) are friends. Even if Karl,a respected engineer, is an adult man in his 30s and Vigo is young, barely out of his teens, their friendship is solid. They share a common passion of skiing and climbing and they are good at it. Then one day Karl, a very handsome man, meets the famous dancer Diotima (Leni Riefenstahl) and very quickly they fall in love. Vigo is unaware of it, therefore when one day he meets Diotima himself, he doesn't know that she is his friends lover... And then the film really begins.
This movie is reputed to be one of the finest examples of "bergfilme" (mountain films), a genre of German cinema which was very popular in the 1920s. I admit that it is the only one I saw until now, so I cannot compare it with others, but it is a good, solid, well done thing. There is a good mixture of romance, friendship, dancing, mountain images (sometimes half-mystical) - and tragedy... All three main actors are very good - and Leni Riefenstahl, aged 24 at that time, for whom it was only the second role ever, simply SHINES...
The film was, very deservedly, a great succes. As consequence Leni Riefenstahl appeared in at least four more "bergfilme" before becoming a director in 1932 and continuing her brilliant but controversial career as director and producer of Nazi propaganda films... She lived a long life and died in 2003, aged 101.
WWI veteran Luis Trenker also continued a long and succesful career as actor and later also director until the 70s - he died in 1990, aged 97. On another hand young Ernst Petersen, for whom it was the first role ever, appeared only in three more films - he died in 1959.
I liked this film. It has a lot of charm proper to those old silent black and white movies and the mastery of German post WWI school of acting and directing is visible in it in full. I am very glad that I bought and watched it and this DVD is DEFINITELY a keeper. ENJOY!