The Alpinist review – nerve-shredding climbing doc barely holds on to its subject

A portrait of Marc-André Leclerc, a sweet but audacious and fearless solo climber whom the film-makers can’t always get close to

This documentary about Canadian climber Marc-André Leclerc, chockful of nerve-shredding footage, is most certainly not a film for anyone who gets sympathetic vertigo from watching people near precipices. Presumably it was shot by drones as much of it features Lerclerc literally hanging by his fingernails off mountains while soloing – in other words, climbing without a partner, or ropes, or pretty much any safety device at all. As extreme sports go, it’s about as extreme as you can get.

Leclerc is by no means the only alpinist who takes big risks but, as other, older climbers and peers testify here, he is particularly audacious, casually setting records and ascending sheer faces in conditions that would scare off most experienced climbers. But it’s not just his bravery, or fearlessness, that makes him interesting. Narrating and appearing on camera themselves, film-makers Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen are both awed and frustrated by the purity of Leclerc’s dedication. He lets them film him up to a point, and then buggers off without so much as a text message so he can climb another mountain without anyone watching; apparently because that’s the truest, most authentic kind of climbing.

That said, Leclerc is not exactly a recluse, and even has a girlfriend, Brette Harrington. she is also a climber and lives with him on-and-off in makeshift shelters in tents, fields and even a stairwell for a while. The two come across as sweet, hippy-dippy kids who in slightly different circumstances could have turned into druggie dropouts – or even eccentrics devoted to the wilderness with the same zeal as Grizzly Man’s Timothy Treadwell or Chris McCandless, the loner whose fate inspired the book and film Into the Wild. Leclerc story goes in a slightly different, somewhat unexpected direction. The film-makers’ enthusiasm for his clarity of purpose is all well and good, but it does leave the film prone to hyperbole, and perhaps a more measured, sideways look at the weird dropout culture around climbing would have been more interesting.

• The Alpinist is released on 24 September in cinemas.


Leslie Felperin

The GuardianTramp

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