Thomas Salvador • Director of The Mountain
"My main character leaves a lot behind him in order to find something deep inside of himself, in order to be reborn"
- CANNES 2022: The French filmmaker discusses the making of his latest film, which unfolds almost entirely in the high mountains and boasts a sci-fi dimension
Revealed by way of Vincent [+see also:
film profile] (screened in San Sebastián’s New Directors section in 2014), French filmmaker Thomas Salvador presented his second feature The Mountain [+see also:
interview: Thomas Salvador
film profile] in the 75th Cannes Film Festival’s Directors’ Fortnight, walking away with the SACD Prize.
Cineuropa: What gave you the idea to make a fiction film set almost entirely in the high mountains, and notably on a glacier, with all the logistical constraints this entails?
Thomas Salvador: I always knew I’d make a film in the mountains. When I was a teen, I wanted to be a filmmaker and a mountain guide: it was a real passion, even though there was a sci-fi element to my relationship with the mountains. Twenty years ago, I was working on a mountain film project with a mountaineer who was a bit of an idol to me as a teen. I played a young mountaineer who was happy in the mountains and who didn’t want to come back down again, which society and the world below found quite upsetting. So I already had this character from The Mountain in mind. But at the time, the mountaineer in question died and I pushed the project to one side. When I went back to it, I adapted it to my age and to current ecological issues which are vastly important. I knew we’d need a tiny crew when it came to shooting the film. There could only be a small number of us because we needed to be highly reactive: the weather’s very changeable in the mountains, and this was especially the case for us, given that we experienced the worst weather they’d seen in twenty years, and this becomes a real danger in the mountains. We had to wait to be invited by the mountains rather than attempting to conquer them; we had to be humble and happy to film whatever it was they offered us, while continually adapting our work plan.
Is Pierre’s refusal to come down from the glacier an attempt to escape? Or a desire to get back to basics? Or both?
His flight isn’t discussed; it happens off-camera. But I staged it so that people could identify with Pierre, with whatever they were looking to escape from. But the question of what the basics actually are is key, because he’s a character who learns to question his desires, his needs, his priorities. He takes a much-needed step back and gives himself this time and space, which a lot of people don’t do and which they don’t even see as an option. Because we’re so caught up in speed, driven by so many things, that a lot passes us by. The resounding call of the mountains allows Pierre to get perspective in the literal sense, to change his relationship with time, to take pleasure in slowness and in distance; he leaves a lot of material things behind him, he quits his job, etc., in order to find himself, to find something deep inside of him, in order to be reborn.
Just like with Vincent, there’s a sci-fi dimension to The Mountain. What do you like about this genre?
Sci-fi allows you to talk about society, philosophy, politics even, without actually verbalising or psychoanalysing it, all by way of the subject in question, displacement, images and sound. My films question the correct role which we seek to play in society. In The Mountain, someone with a “normal” life feels the need to take on the elements and matter itself. I did also want to include an encounter with an Other and I even thought about aliens at one point (laughs). But while writing the film, I realised that it needed to come from the mountains, and ultimately it became intertwined with a distinct reality: the mountains are collapsing on account of global warming. So these beings that Pierre meets live in the mountains and their habitat just isn’t working as it should. There’s no ecological discourse in the film, but the character is faced with the same reality as mountaineers and mountain guides, many of whom are changing profession because, in the summertime, the mountains aren’t as accessible given the continual rockfalls and huge mountainside collapses. And, as he no longer has too many ties down below the mountain, or that much desire to be there, Pierre gives into this surge of curiosity. He’ll no doubt have to go one step too far in order to find reason and love, before turning around and returning to his old life, albeit as a changed man, to peacefully pass on his experience.
(Translated from French)
Did you enjoy reading this article? Please subscribe to our newsletter to receive more stories like this directly in your inbox.