Appearances are deceptive. The star of this film, the Alps, has been photographed and painted countless times, its images have been reproduced, and its postcards have become a cliché of the postcard genre itself. Over the years, the Alps have become a construction and a fantasy, a wish and a projection of our desires. It is shocking to realize that what we have been taking for granted is not quite what it seems. Hannes Lang’s amazing feature film debut, Peak, suggests: The Alps don’t exist anymore.
Behind the Scenes.
It’s no news that during the last decades, the relatively new phenomenon of mass tourism has destroyed vast parts of “our” nature, most importantly mountain regions all over the world. When the camera glides through the summer landscapes that try to recover from the last tourist invasion, we are reminded of eco-campaigns of the 1980s, begging us to save the forests. But this film is not one of those do-gooder anti- globalisation films whose in-your-face messages only preach to the converted. Peak is instead a beautiful and fascinating observation of what we don’t normally see. If the Alps are an epic film classic, Peak is its making of, its thrilling look behind the scenes.
Many of the regions that director Lang filmed seem like a paradise lost. An abandoned cubist hotel complex lies in the summer sun like a stranded spaceship – busy in winter, useless in summer. The now melting and slowly disappearing glaciers are covered under enormous plastic blankets that will be covered with artificial snow. Most regions of the Alps depend so strongly and exclusively on tourism that global warming is not an option. Man must play God, nature must be outwitted. The more we learn about the technical industry behind the tourism industry, the more Peak turns into a revealing science non-fiction thriller. Alps, the film classic, is a big budget production, the perfect winter illusion. Artificial lakes are excavated to store the water for the snow production. When 350 snowmaker machines run for 24 hours to produce the snow that cannot be guaranteed anymore, the costs amount to 500,000 Euros. During the last five years, a region spent 50 million Euros on making what used to fall from the sky for free.
Hannes Lang spares us the omniscient narrator. No voice-over is needed to underline what the breath-taking cinematography reveals – images of the unreal.
Thus, Peak is a clever deconstruction of the Alps and a beautiful homage at the same time. Its biggest advantage is the contradiction that the new images we get to see have nothing to do with the beautiful images we used to know. We can enjoy the camerawork and the clever editing, although we learn that things are wrong bit by bit. Towards the end of the film, one single shot sums up Peak’s subtle thriller elements: the winter skiers drive through the fog, they appear and disappear into the white that fills the frame. Eerie music underlines our assumption that this can’t be right: beneath the snow line there is no snow, but this fact must be ignored, snow must be made.
The human factor.
The drama of the Alps is shown through interviews with people of the various regions. We hear high-profile businessmen who explain the complicated technical development to us and we see workers who prepare the mountains for the upcoming sports season. The camera is always at a distance because the stories with a human touch work best without a zoom or a close-up. The audience is supposed to discover real biographies, not be manipulated by false sentiment. When we follow old locals into their houses and hear
them talk about the drastic changes that many mountain regions have undergone, we might feel pity, but we are not invited to judge. Traditions die and the most rural areas feel globalisation the strongest. On the other hand, many regions of the Alps would collapse economically if there was no industry keeping up the image that we have known and that we long for. In winter, the Alps still appear to be the same, and our star doesn’t seem to have aged or changed. Peak’s look behind that appearance is full of shocking beauty.
Peak, Germany/ Italy 2011, 91 min.
director: Hannes Lang, camera: Thilo Schmidt, Hajo Schomerus, languages: German, Swiss German, French, Italian, distributor: Farbfilm
Berlin screenings: fsk, Filmrauschpalast
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