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A challenging day out 

A short review of Touching the Void

click to enlarge Actor Nicholas Aaron, plays Simon Yates
  • Actor Nicholas Aaron, plays Simon Yates

*Touching the Void (NR)
IFC Films

The English are renowned for embarking on foolhardy endeavors and coming out the other end with the minor complaint of having had "a bit of a challenging day." Touching the Void, based on the true story recounted in Joe Simpson's book, belies the understatement.

In June 1985, Simpson and Simon Yates climbed the previously unclimbed west face of Siula Grande, a 21,500-foot mountain in the Peruvian Andes. During the descent, Simpson fell and broke his leg in three places. Yates initially attempted to lower him in 300-foot stages by rope but it was nighttime, they were in the middle of a blizzard and it was not long before Simpson fell into a crevasse. Faced with the impossibility of pulling Simpson to safety he cut the rope. Remarkably, Simpson survived the fall, climbed out of the crevasse and painstakingly crawled down the mountain.

Kevin Macdonald, director of the 2000 Oscar-winner One Day in September, filmed the journey as a pseudo-documentary with actors and stunt-double climbers. Simpson, Yates and Richard Hawking, their base camp colleague, enhance the action with their disarmingly honest commentaries. The directness of the cinematography and the drama of climbing help us forget that this is a re-enactment.

Void celebrates the ability of humans to confront the seemingly impossible. Simpson, faced with the enormity of the task, focuses on what he can achieve in each 20-minute period. Rock by rock, he somehow endures the gut-wrenching journey.

It is a thrilling and harrowing experience. The climbing scenes are breathtaking, Simpson's journey is brutal, and the mostly realistic re-enactments shock and chill. Touching the Void is a testament to the human desire to survive.

(Winner of the 2004 British Academy Film Award for Best British Film.)

-- Wayne Young

Kimball's Twin Peak

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