The film Nanga Parbat, directed by Joseph Vilsmaier, has been showing in German cinemas since the 14th of January. It is the story of the fateful ascent of Nanga Parbat by the famous climber Reinhold Messner, on which his brother Günther tragically dies.
It is now around 40 years ago that the expedition took place and since that time it has been the cause of passionate arguments and even legal action. Given the provocative and slanderous nature of the film in regard to some of the now deceased team members, this new version of the story won't restore any peace for those climbers who were involved.
“The dramatisation is unconvincing, the dialogue is shallow, and so is the performance of most of the actors.”
To put it succinctly, the film about the 1970 first ascent of the 4500 metre high Rupal face on Nanga Parbat is simply poor. The dramatisation is unconvincing, the dialogue is shallow, and so is the performance of most of the actors. Messner is the 'hero' of the film and is played, quite badly, by the actor Florian Stetter, who manages to keep a single facial expression for most of the film. One could think his arrogant, condescending smirk had been frozen in place by the cold of the mountain.
Since Cliffhanger, Vertical Limit and the like, it is well known that mountaineering films do not necessarily excel in portraying reality. Nanga Parbat, too, features some slip ups. In the very beginning, Messner climbs the Heiligkreuzkofel Central Pillar in the Dolomites wearing modern rock boots, however on the summit - hey presto - he wears heavy leather mountain boots. Plus of course - in 1968, rock boots as we know them today did not yet exist.
“To impute this kind of unproven behaviour to two now deceased persons, is simply unacceptable.”
The same goes for the Gore-Tex jackets that Felix Kuen und Peter Scholz are shown to wear in 1970 on the summit of Nanga Parbat. Or, take the scene after Günther Messner has been buried by an avalanche (poorly recreated in the film) - One moment, Reinhold Messner is lying completely exhausted on a glacial moraine at the bottom of the wall, and the next moment he is back in the middle of a steep wall, searching for his brother in the avalanche debris. Add to this that even non-alpinists might wonder whether it wouldn't make sense to zip up the collar and put up the hood of your jacket when fighting for survival in the icy cold of a Himalayan snow-storm and you have a catalogue of unconvincing technical errors.
However, these rather minor mistakes pale when compared to some other scenes.
Unbelievably crass is the moment when Felix Kuen and Peter Scholz reach the summit, one day after the Messner brothers. There they find a discarded glove. Their joyous conversation follows: "The Messners are dead! We are the victorious summiteers!" Cheering, the mountaineers embrace each other.
To impute this kind of unproven behaviour to two now deceased persons, is simply unacceptable.
“Vilsmaier doesn't succeed in inspiring any sympathy for his heroes”
Similarly out of place is the characterisation of expedition leader Herrligkoffer. Portrayed as a tyrant using unspeakable Nazi rhetoric, he likes to show off, but then is incompetent and helpless, and has constantly to refer to Messner for advice. Reinhold Messner however always knows what to do.
When the expedition is financially touch and go, he convinces the sponsor with his wit and charisma to issue a blank cheque; on the mountain he always leads the way, knows what the weather does, and so forth. This kind of platitudinous black and white picture smacks of bad US propaganda movies - but falls short of accelerating the drama of the film. Vilsmaier doesn't succeed in inspiring any sympathy for his "heroes", leaving the viewer, even whilst watching the demise of Günther Messner, coldly untouched.
With his film Nanga Parbat, Joseph Vilsmaier has done no favour to the genre of mountain films. And given the crass characterisation evident throughout the feature, it comes as no surprise that, with the obvious exception of Messner, all other members of the expedition, plus their descendants, protest strongly against the distortion of facts and the slight upon the characters of the climbers who are unjustly portrayed.
This review was first published in German on Klettern.de and is published, with thanks, on UKC as part of the Climbweb.net cooperation.
The review was written by Steffen Kern, translated by Sarah Burmester and edited by Jack Geldard.
This review goes with the UKC Editorial: Nanga Parbat, The Fury Continues.