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FNE at Venice 2018: Review: The Mountain

2018-08-31
The Mountain, dir. Rick Alverson The Mountain, dir. Rick Alverson

VENICE: American indie director Rick Alverson has scored a slot in the Venice competition lineup with his fifth and most ambitious film The Mountain.  His earlier offbeat dark comedies Entertainmentand The Comedy established his reputation as a Sundance regular who did not hesitate to challenge audiences with difficult but nonetheless visually beautiful films.

For his Venice competition debut Alverson has chosen some a topic that is just as bizarre as his previous films but not at all funny.  The film is set in 1950s America, where a young man, Andy, played by Tye Sheridan is clearly damaged emotionally and hanging onto sanity.  His father is a German figure skater Frederick played by Udo Kier dominates his large and emotionally inert son and has probably been responsible for Andy’s mother being placed in an asylum for the insane. Kier as usual brings just the right touch of the strange and abnormal to his character without going beyond the realm of the world Alverson has constructed for this tale.

But Andy escapes his dominant father when Frederick suddenly drops dead.  Left with no real direction Andy is taken under the wing of a renowned lobotomist Dr Wallace Fiennes played by Jeff Goldblum who is definitely one of the major assets of the film.  Together Fiennes and Andy tour asylums for the insane.  Fiennes performs lobotomies and dishes out electro- shock on dead eyed victims in 1950s asylums across California while Andy documents his work in photographs.  Part of the fascination is that Fiennes has lobotomised Andy’s mother.

The emotional deadness and conformity of the supposedly normal people these two encounter is clearly a comment on the society of 1950s America and no doubt Alverson is also taking aim at the return to conservatism currently sweeping grass roots America today.  Most of Fiennes victims are women and Alverson is clearly saying that society has lobotomised women in normal society.

But treatment has moved on and Fiennes procedures have already been debunked by the mainstream medical profession but he continues to tour asylums carrying out the procedure despite evidence that it is harmful.

Andy begins to identify with the patients and then a truly crazy character Jack played by who is a leader of the New Age movement in California played by Denis Lavant enters the story. Jack believes he is a healer and he wants Fiennes to lobotomise his daughter Susan played by Hannah Gross.  Andy identifies with Susan and he is clearly beginning to understand that Fiennes is much more insane that the patients he says he is healing. The gruesome procedures he carries out are horrific and Andy asks after one particularly awful treatment if this is what Fiennes did to his mother.

The characters of Andy, Frederick, Fiennes and Susan are all so far bizarrely offbeat and the actors bring this off with wonderful effect. But the over the top Jack character as played by Denis Lavant goes much further and this is a character that the audience will either love or hate. Lavant goes into a long and seemingly improvised rant towards the end of the film that you can take as virtuoso turn or just too much.

The visual style of the film exceeds anything Alverson has previously done and that is setting the bar rather high.  This is darkness without any comedic relief and clearly not intended as mainstream fare.

Credits: The Mountain (USA)

Director: Rick Alverson

Cast: Tye Sheridan, Jeff Goldblum, Hannah Gross, Denis Lavant, Udo Kier

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