Cannes 2021: ‘The Summit of the Gods’ is Breathtaking Perfection
by Alex Billington
July 11, 2021
Oh my goodness, this is an instant personal favorite. No exaggeration, this goes on my “all-timer” list right away. I want to watch it again right now. I want the posters, I want frames of the film on my wall, I want to listen to the score non-stop, I want to buy copies of the graphic novel it’s based on. It has everything I love, everything that amazes me about this world: photography, mountains, Nepal, the Himalayas, Japan, Tokyo, the starry night sky. The Summit of the Gods (also known as Le Sommet des Dieux) is a French animated film made by animation filmmaker Patrick Imbert, based on the Japanese manga also titled The Summit of the Gods written by Jiro Taniguchi. It tells a riveting story about a Japanese adventure photographer and mountain climber who becomes obsessed with searching for a long lost Japanese mountain climber hiding out in the Himalayas who may have found a camera from an early Everest expedition. An engrossing story.
The legend goes… Mount Everest was first summited successfully in 1953 by climbers Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. But 30 years before that happened, English mountaineer George Mallory lead a number of expeditions in the 1920s. In 1924, climbing with Andrew Irvine, they made a final push for the summit but were never seen again. Therefore there is no way to ever confirm whether they reached the summit before they perished, though Mallory did have a camera with him. In the film, Japanese photographer Fukamachi becomes obsessed with this legend when he realizes that another Japanese climber has found the camera and is holding onto it. The film then takes us on a journey through the lives of Fukamachi, and also Habu Jôji, an outcast climber who has been missing for years. As with almost every mountain film ever made, this also wonders: why do these men put themselves in danger? Why do they keep climbing, what compels them?
The Summit of the Gods is one of the best mountain climbing movies I have ever seen. As someone who has always had a deep love for and appreciation for the mountains and those that climb them, this is absolutely my kind of movie. And I have seen almost every other mountain climbing movie ever made, documentaries and features of all kinds. But this one gets everything right. The technical accuracy and attention to detail is breathtaking in its own right. Every carabiner, crampon, ice axe, rope, piton, harness, belay, tent, backpack, helmet. It’s all in here, and all perfectly used, and all perfectly animated. Most films are too scared to show this, but every shot in here is accurate. It’s not easy to get all of this right, and not only do they get it right, but it’s beautifully animated – there’s not a single scene where you don’t believe these men are experienced climbers, even though every single frame is a painting. Then there’s every single shot of the mountains, with every rock and crevasse detailed perfectly. They must’ve used reference shots, but still, it’s utterly gorgeous.
Then there’s the score, an emotional and invigorating creation by the talented composer Amin Bouhafa, pulling you further into this journey through the mountains. The film spends half of its time in Japan, and half of its time in Nepal, and never wastes a single moment on any scene or conversation that isn’t entirely necessary. It’s captivating and engaging in a remarkably thrilling way, there are moments in this that made my heart race faster than most live-action movies. I was in awe from start to finish. I was lost in the film and every single perfectly composed frame. I was caught up in the story and following Fukamachi and Habu. It reminds me why I love mountains so much, and why I love Nepal so much. If I hadn’t visited Nepal back in 2016 and made the trek to Everest Base Camp already, this film would’ve made me book a ticket to visit immediately. And now I want to go back again, as soon as possible. There’s nothing like the mountains, their majesty and grace. And they call to me, just like they call to the people in this film. I want to go back again…