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IDFA Review: The Ridge

The Ridge (or Pura Vida as it was originally called) by directors Migueltxo Molina and Pablo Iraburu is a stunningly shot and scored tribute to friendship and living life to the full, concealed behind a thrilling mountain rescue story.

Though it might be easy to persume so, this documentary actually veers away from hyperbole and clichéd stories of masculine bravery and heroism, opting instead for honesty, sensitivity and understatement.

The documentary tells the story of a group of mountaineers from around the world who attempted to climb the 8091m high Mount Anapurna in the Himalayas via its most difficult route in 2008, and the lengths they went to and lessons they learnt when things went seriously wrong for one of them.

The narrative, told principally through interviews but also through archive footage, reenactments and original photos, can be tricky to follow at times and a little slow moving at the beginning, but it’s worth sticking with it. Crucially, you only really come to understand the full meaning of the story and philosophical observations at the end. Although involving high altitudes and high-risk situations, there’s something very unpretentious and un-patronising about how this meaning unravels.

Visually the film also eschews clichés, showing us an imperfect, real, sometimes grey but still beautiful natural world experienced at human level, rather than just going for the wow factor. The sound and music is in harmony with this kind of landscape, giving space to personal reflection and successfully refraining from imposing suspense or sadness on the viewer.

The musings on life, inner strength and achieving goals avoids belittling those who do not take part in extreme physical risks, and tries to give a wider universal message that thankfully never feels like preaching.

The ending transforms this film into one about living your short time on Planet Earth with meaning and depth (pura vida – pure life). Its message is also that finding a way to distance yourself from the stress, fast pace and information overload of modern life shouldn’t (and doesn’t have to) involve abandoning those you love, but acknowledges that the boundaries aren’t always clear.

As one of the climbers says: “We look for summits everywhere – in business, education and relationships. We run away to mountains to escape every day problems, but always come back from the mountains to be with friends, family and loved ones….Whether you’re up a mountain in extreme conditions or not, you need to climb with your heart, not just physical prowess, to get through the most challenging situations.”

The Ridge is a carefully, sensitively and respectfully put together documentary that manages to blur the boundaries between death, life, sadness and joy to surprisingly uplifting effect.



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