French adventure-comedy film “The Climb” (French: L’ascension) recently popped up as a suggestion on my Netflix profile. More noticeably, a Nepali friend had posted about it on his Facebook wall a little ago, calling it a “beautiful French film which was mostly shot in Nepal.” Strangely, I don’t remember hearing anything about an international film shot in Nepal around 2016, except for Marvel’s “Doctor Strange”.
The production of “The Climb” seems to have happened without much hullabaloo and it is a nice experience to watch a foreign movie you’ve never heard about that’s been shot in your country and which features something we Nepalis are all proud of—Mount Everest. Also, as this is not a Hollywood movie, it doesn’t have those weird colored filters that Western movies usually give poor Asian countries. The Climb approaches Nepal naturally, like any other country, and that’s what makes the film beautiful. So you know already that you’re going to read a positive review.
Samy Diakhate (Ahmed Sylla) is a 26-year-old French of Senegalese origin from the Cité des 4000 in La Courneuve. The unemployed young man is madly in love with his childhood friend Nadia (Alice Belaïdi) who he briefly dated back in middle school. Nadia, although reciprocating some of Samy’s affection, is skeptical of his commitment issues. In response, Samy claims he would climb the world’s highest peak to prove himself. Unaware of Samy’s earnestness, Nadia accepts the dare.
So Samy, without any previous training, actually sets out to embark on this perilous journey that his local radio station RJs say will make him the “furthest out black guy on the planet.” As strange as the plot sounds, it is not entirely fictional. The Climb is loosely based on Nadir Dendoune, who became the first French-Algerian to go up Everest in 2008—remarkably, without any experience in mountain-climbing.
As the film progresses, we know climbing the mountain is only half the challenge before Samy. He also has to deal with the ridicule of people around him and all other odds pitted heavily against him. But unlike most things he committed to in the past, this time his resilience stays intact. Unable to afford the trip on his own, Samy even manages to find a sponsor for his Mount Everest sojourn.
The Climb, unlike what its name suggests, is not an out-and-out mountaineering movie—at least not like “Everest” (2015). The ascent here is not only physical but also metaphorical. The challenges before Samy are tough Himalayan terrains but also life’s vissicitudes. And he is at the center of it all, representing the youth of his race, class and region in France.
As for the majestic Everest and its ascent, there is again no Hollywood-like glorification of the journey. Samy is your next-door humorous and affable guy. And that’s how he remains all through the movie. He is not scared to show his fears and his determination is grounded in reality. His adventures are also shown in the most realistic way, making the storytelling feel honest.
The film flies the audience from France and directly lands them in Thamel, the heart of Kathmandu, and then takes them gradually to Everest, a step at a time. This is another of the movie’s interesting features. It shows the whole process of a climber reaching the top of the world, which could be a learning experience even for us who live right below Everest. The various stages of the journey, from Kathmandu to Lukla to Namche Bazar onwards, and the lives of the people from different parts of the world that collide on the trail, are both realistic and fascinating.
Who should watch it?
Instead of unabashedly glorifying Mount Everest as most movies made on the subject do, The Climb offers it a humble tribute. It also low-key glorifies the real heroes of the Himalayas—the Sherpas. The movie itself is a combination of good acting also featuring a small Nepali cast, superb storytelling and brilliant direction. So there’s no reason to miss out on this one over Netflix.