June 25, 2018  (Web Review)

The Holy Mountain

Kino Lorber, 105 min., in German w/English subtitles, not rated, DVD: $19.99, Blu-ray: $29.99

Reviewer rating: 3.0/4

The German “mountain film”—a genre of adventure melodrama set against the backdrop of rural mountain villages and dramatic snowy peaks, featuring rugged heroes and heroines who embrace the outdoors—was hugely popular in Germany in the late 1920s and early ‘30s. The Holy Mountain, directed by Arnold Fanck in 1926 and featuring the film debut of a young Leni Riefenstahl, is arguably the most famous entry in the genre. Riefenstahl plays a celebrated dancer who lives by the sea but meets her spiritual match in a rugged climber (Luis Trenker) who is driven to climb every peak. The pair fall in love but, as the climber’s aged mother warns, “The sea and the stone can never be wed,” and a misunderstanding leads to tragedy. This is the first incarnation of a character that Riefenstahl would play in numerous films, the passionate child of nature in love with the outdoors and in tune with the elements (the film opens with her dancing on the shore in a scene that Fanck directs with a grandeur and grace that makes it appear that the crashing surf is responding to her performance). The mountain footage, shot on location with breathtaking photography and impressive imagery, is equally compelling. Fanck’s dramatic imagery and editing was a major influence on Riefenstahl when she became a director (Triumph of the Will), pushing his style even further. Remastered from a 2K digital restoration, extras include audio commentary by film historian Travis Crawford, and archival interview clips from a documentary featuring Riefenstahl and Trenker. Recommended. (S. Axmaker)