Broad Peak: Review– People always have that desire to prove that they are the best. It is a natural instinct, but balancing adrenaline and rationality is always tough; especially when one has battled adversity and tested the limits of human endurance. Cinema has captured this in the past, but this effort is different as it chronicles a true story of a mountaineer (Maciej Berbeka).
Films following this theme have an established template that glorifies the subject’s choice and motivates others to saunter into it akin to a summer activity. Broad Peak doesn’t, as makeup, sound effect, and cinematography, combine to present a harrowing image at hazardous heights in the winter.
Places where oxygen is scarce, and freezing blizzards deprive individuals of a sense and serve as an assault on the senses.
What is Broad Peak about? Is it real?
Broad Peak is not a fictional location. It is Earth’s 12th highest peak and a challenging ascent in the Karakoram range. This isn’t the highest peak that Maciej Berbeka ascended, but it remains the one that drove him. He climbed to what he thought was the top, only to realize- he tried so hard and got so far, but in the end, it didn’t even matter. One can look at Berbeka’s desire to right a wrong as a 25-year journey of the final 17 meters (18.5 yards).
Perhaps the 1988 Broad Peak incident fueled the Pole ‘Ice Warrior’ to ascend the seven summits, including Mount Everest, and many more peaks well into his late 50s. However, it was that one blot on his record that served as an everlasting and haunting memory. One that drove him to make his final ascent on the Silver Jubilee of his biggest regret.
What’s Good about Broad Peak?
Director Leszek Dawid takes care not to glorify the journey (mountain climbing). In doing so, he doesn’t resort to the usual display of statistics talking about the ones that didn’t make it to the top, or those that did and didn’t return. Instead, the screenplay gives Berbeka some lines about the brutal physical and emotional effects of his profession. One of them is exactly what the WWE commentators say happens to superstars who compete in a Hell in The Cell match.
Besides the lines, the howling blizzard combined with the deep breaths can transport audiences from before their screens to a location 8,000m (8,748 yards) above sea level. The sight of dried ice coated on Berbeka’s face is enough to get the message about the frigid surroundings across. A mention of a definite number on Berbeka’s radio drives home the point even further. Winter ascents are no joke.
When not closely focused on the subject, Lukasz Gutt’s camera presents the glorious stills of the snow-covered mountains. These awe-inspiring visuals, that let the winter peaks shine in all their majesty, show audiences just how diminutive man is before nature.
A climber’s arduous journey to the top is filled with challenges, all undertaken for those few seconds of glory. If that wasn’t enough, the Netflix film adds in a scare to show that Berbeka’s mates weren’t dissuading him for no good reason. The hazards of climbing are very real. Although Berbeka’s journey seemed relatively straightforward, audiences got a glimpse of the realities of one missed step and the not touched upon descent.
This movie has lengthy takes that dwell on these moments miles above sea level, and ones on the ground, allowing them to linger in the audience’s minds to drive home the Pole’s zeal and determination. It allows Broad Peak to touch upon Berbeka’s dismay. Ireneusz Czop has a few moments on screen without anything obscuring his face. In these few scenes, the Polish actor successfully drives home the pain of his real-life source.
What’s Not Good about Broad Peak?
The Netflix Original relies on the cinematography and sound team to present the dangerous realities of the mountains. This, combined with Berbeka’s obstinate wish to proceed, does the trick. However, there could have been more focus on character. When Broad Peak moved to Poland, one could understand the despair as the truth dawned upon him. A few more scenes at lower altitudes on the re-ascent could have driven home the emotions exhibited in the car.
The film doesn’t linger either on the first ascent, the time in between, or the final ascent. As they opted for a 25-year time jump, the makers missed the opportunity to show how each climb drove him back to his singular goal, i.e. first individual to successfully scale Broad Peak in the winter.
It doesn’t even provide audiences with a montage to show Berbeka’s successes for a quarter of a century. This creative choice, if paired with the pensive build-up, could have really enhanced Broad Peak.
Music is not something that audiences would remember after getting back to the Netflix home page. This was the biggest missed opportunity as the beats accompanying Berbeka ending his 25-year wait could have struck a chord. In retrospect, the lack of music ensured the offering presented audiences with an accurate take of the summit. A quiet place with snow-clad peaks meeting clear skies. Good for a documentary, but not for a film.
Broad Peak is a film for mountaineering enthusiasts and for those who wish to see nature at its finest. Berbeka’s pursuit of happiness is visible, but the elongated journey of said pursuit is absent. Audiences in search of a feel-good, achieve your goal film, may prefer to avoid this new Netflix movie. The lack of the elongated journey seems like a missed opportunity.
Broad Peak is streaming on Netflix.