movie film review | chris tookey

Touching the Void

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  Touching the Void Review
Tookey's Rating
7 /10
Average Rating
8.78 /10
Joe Simpson, Simon Yates, Richard Hawking
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Directed by: Kevin Macdonald
Written by: Brendan Mackey, Nicholas Aaron. Based on Joe Simpsonís book

Released: 2003
Origin: GB
Colour: C
Length: 106

Real life can be far more incredible than fiction. Such is the case with Touching the Void, Kevin Macdonald's documentary about climber Joe Simpson's narrow escape from death on Siula Grande, a treacherous peak in the Peruvian Andes. Macdonald has mounted a painstaking re-enactment of Simpson's 1985 near-death by misadventure, intercut with straight-to-camera headshots of Simpson, his colleague Simon Yates and Richard Hawking, the man they left at base camp.
Reviewed by Chris Tookey

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It's a gripping yarn, and first-rate camerawork certainly makes you feel what it must be like to break your leg, crawl down a mountain and then nearly die of dehydration while a Boney M song inside your brain drives you mental.

But we never find out much about Simpson and Yates, beyond what they went through on the mountain. Doubtless this is deliberate policy, but as a result it is hard not to feel a little distanced. It seems as though we're being asked to identify with climbers who have made virtually no effort to make us like them or share their sense of purpose.

Also, I learn from the production notes that Simpson and Yates accompanied the film crew when they made their dramatic re-enactment and "experienced strong reactions as they revisited the fateful mountain together for the first time". Well, I'd have liked to see that; it seems oddly perverse not to have taken footage of this to bridge the awkward divide between drama and talking heads.

The chasm between drama and documentary is all the more noticeable because the camera stays for so long on the real faces of Simpson and Yates, that it's hard to accept the actors who play them in the re-enactment. Because of its innate narrative power, this is a memorable mountaineering documentary, but I fear it will find its audience on TV rather than the big screen.

The movie won Best British Film at the BAFTAs and Best Film at the Evening Standard British Film Awards.

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