By Sean Pacilio
The Alpinist is an exhilarating nonfiction thriller documentary that follows the famed career of Canadian rock climber, Marc-André Leclerc. Leclerc comes to fame in the rock-climbing community through free soloing summit walls for fun and accidentally breaking record times. He is a free-spirited climber who unintentionally brings attention to himself with his extraordinary abilities and uniquely charismatic personality. This film is suspenseful and entertaining whether you fear heights or not. The Alpinist ran through my emotions and kindled an appreciation for nature that I didn’t know I had. This is a perfect documentary for outdoorsy, adventurous, thrill seekers interested in natural rock climbing.
The Alpinist successfully creates a sense of terror as you watch climbers push the limits of their sport. Directors Peter Mortimer and Nick Rosen maintain this emotional tension by shedding light on the lives unfortunately lost trying to accomplish the world’s most difficult and dangerous climbs. If heights don’t scare you… think again. The magnitude of the climbs captures the beauty of natural rock climbing in all of its exhilarating twists and turns. I think the most enjoyable parts of this film are the magnificent aerial views shot by head cinematographer, Jonathan Griffith. The scenes captured throughout this film are not only visually pleasing, but also terrifying once you realize Leclerc is the small figure making his way up the mountain side with no ropes or harness.
The most attractive aspect of this film is how personable the interviews connect with Leclerc. They are able to portray a goofy free-spirited kid with a genuine love of rock climbing, nature, and adrenaline. You never really get to fully understand Leclerc in this film because he is so out of the ordinary that it is very hard to capture his unique personality on camera. This type of film opens your eyes to a new frontier of nature, and the special type of people that explore the limits of its dangerous terrain. The most off-putting thing about Leclerc and The Alpinist is his remarkable calmness in the face of danger and lackluster approach to each climb. It is almost unsettling how nonchalant and comfortable he is with facing death every time he starts a new climb.
The film starts out showing a young Marc-André Leclerc full of energy and ambition, but still figuring out his way in the world. Leclerc is not interested in the fame and glory of becoming the best climber in the world; he is more interested in having fun doing what he loves. The appeal of this film and Leclerc is how seemingly oblivious he is to the unprecedented accomplishments he has made in rock climbing. As the film progresses you become more and more attached to the laid back Canadian rock climber who is genuinely just having fun in his own world of climbing. Later in the film you start to see Marc mature as he starts to value the relationships he has made and realizes that he has more to lose after each climb.
This movie did a superb job developing Marc-André Leclerc as a character. Although he had no desire to be in the limelight and have his climbing achievements recognized I was rooting for him more and more as the movie progressed. The videography/cinematography of the film was the most impressive aspect of the film and added to the suspense of each scene. The filmmakers unfortunately missed a large chunk of Leclerc’s career because he intentionally eluded media attention. The crew missed an opportunity to capture him during his greatest achievements which almost takes away some of the power of this documentary. There were times when the narrator would mention some unbelievable facts and stories about Marc, but there was no documentation or video to support these claims.
I would recommend this film to fans of the movie Free Solo, which follows the storied career of famed rock climber Alex Honnold. Honnold and Leclerc were friends and colleagues who both share a passion for climbing and adrenaline. Honnold is introduced at the beginning of The Alpinist as another fan of Leclerc as they competed against each other for years. Watching these movies together gives you two very different views of these two world renowned figures in the rock-climbing community.
The Alpinist is entertaining from start to finish as you travel from jaw dropping views around the globe. It captures your attention through the entire climb and did not let go until the final decent. Many different audiences will enjoy this unique documentary of Marc-André Leclerc’s love for rock climbing and nature. This is the type of feel good nature film that you didn’t know you were looking for. I hope you aren’t scared of heights!