Meru (USA, 2015)

meruDirected by: Jimmy Chin and Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi. This was another one which, had it not been for a review for a real publication, surely never would have come across my radar. If you couldn’t tell, I’m not a particularly adventurous or outdoor type, and extreme sports and films about extreme sports don’t really interest me beyond a general acknowledgment of how interesting and inherently worthwhile such activities are. And so my expectations for this film were pretty low, but I’ll be darned if this isn’t actually a really terrific documentary. (I hate making star ratings for films, but I had to reluctantly give this one 4 stars. I start with 3 if it’s a perfectly good, so-so film, and go up from there, and this was a rare case where the film really pushed itself beyond the stratosphere for me.) As I mentioned in my real review, what makes it great is that Chin is a climber and a filmmaker, and Vasarhelyi (or whatever combination of decisions undertaken by each—the problem of co-directorship is a tricky one to navigate) makes great decisions. In short, here’s my beef with documentary in general. There can be really great documentaries out there, of course, but there are an awful lot of documentaries which are simply low-budget, dull-looking, extended 60 Minutes filmic journalism. And all that shit is fine—documentary as journalism is really important—but of course, it’s also an artistic medium, and when you see something like The Act of Killing (or presumably Oppenheimer’s newer work The Look of Silence) or many other extremely powerful, socially important pieces of investigative journalism handled with tremendous poetry and creativity, then it’s obvious that just because you’re working in a documentary form doesn’t mean that you have license to make visual artwork that’s visually fucking boring. And, fair enough—not every film can employ all of the different visual tricks that this film did to make a patchwork, visceral, visually heterogenous work of art. The point of this film was to inspire wonder, and it took an evocative, imaginative, artist approach to bringing that to the front, in a way which wouldn’t work in other docs (for instance, this approach would feel overly cluttered and distracting from the built-in wonder and beauty of the subject matter of Cave of Forgotten Dreams, and would feel totally inappropriate and unnecessary to the riveting drama and brisk pace of the Whitey Bulger documentary). I guess the snob in me was surprised that mountain climbers—a demographic I would usually assume to be high on adrenaline and impulse, low on cerebral imagination—could deliver something as intelligent and beautiful as this. Lesson learned: these guys are dreamers as much as anyone, except that when they’ve got their heads in the clouds, their heads are literally in the clouds, because they’ve gotten off their asses and climbed a fucking mountain. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got more movies to watch in the comfort of my apartment.

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2 responses to “Meru (USA, 2015)

  1. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2015 | Offhand Reviews·

  2. Pingback: List of Judgements, Anno Domini 2015 | Offhand Reviews·

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