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United Kingdom 2003
Directed by
Kevin Macdonald
106 minutes
Rated M

Reviewed by
Cynthia Karena
4.5 stars

Touching The Void

Synopsis:Simon Yates and Joe Simpson are young (21 and 25) and ambitious mountaineers who want to be the first to climb Siula Grande in the Peruvian Andes. They make great progress, reach the top, but the way down is harder than they thought. A blizzard comes with almost zero visibility and below zero temperatures. Joe loses his footing and shatters his leg, which usually means death in such circumstance, however, Simon tries to lower him down the mountain, a dead weight swinging on the rope. Joe can’t respond to Simon, Simon doesn’t know what’s going on. Is Joe dead? Simon waits as long as he can – but he is also sliding down. A decision has to be made. He cuts the rope. Joe falls to an expected death and thus begins his amazing story of survival.
Based on the best-selling book of the same name, Touching The Void is not only a great survival story, but also looks at the difficult and excruciating decision that had to be made in the circumstances: do you both die, or does one live? Is there another option? At the time Simon Yates was vilified in England amongst his mountaineering peers for cutting the rope to his colleague but Joe has supported Simon’s decision from the beginning. This documentary puts the story straight as both men reflect on their experiences with Joe, in particular, giving an enlightening insight into his feelings.

The film won the Best British Film at this year’s BAFTA’s. It has also overtaken Michael Moore’s Bowling For Columbine to become the most successful documentary in UK box-office history. And you can see why. It is a great story that has been told in a gripping way. It is ostensibly a documentary, with Simon and Joe telling their story and a parallel dramatisation of the events. The talking head style, usually deemed documentary death these days, works well because the story is so compelling. The only criticism I have is that at the beginning it is a little confusing to work out which one is Simon and which one is Joe.

I was enthralled right from the initial scenes of death-defying mountain climbing. What these people do in nice sunny weather is scary enough for me, let alone all the things that could and did go wrong for them and I was in a constant state of amazement, and tension, throughout the whole film. The cinematography is awesome. The peaks, the snow, ice, the "meringues and mushrooms and cornices all over the place" – all too beautiful and stunning for words. (I’d like to see ‘the making of’. Crew roped together, equipment freezing up, filming in extreme conditions – minus 20, high altitudes, dangerous terrain, snowstorms.)

Exciting, thrilling, knuckle-whitening, jaw-clenching, edge-of-your-seat stuff - all the clichés are true. It is exciting because it’s real. This is where a documentary has the edge over Hollywood.

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