A continuation of the Trypps cinematic approach he’s established, but merged with material adapted from René Daumal’s surrealist fantasy novel Mount Analogue, Ben Russell’s latest, The Invisible Mountain, is challenging to define outside the terms set by the experimental director over the last two decades of his career. A documentary by the director’s own account, The Invisible Mountain is largely comprised of concert footage and candid discussion between cast and crew (one and the same, really) that would qualify as nonfiction, but informed and structured around the plot of Daumal’s unfinished 1959 text. In part an inspiration for Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Holy Mountain, Mount Analogue’s story of an expedition team setting out to climb a mountain on an invisible continent doesn’t make immediate sense as the inspiration for a documentary, but Russell takes a surprising and effective approach to adaptation not dissimilar to that of Straub/Huillet, using the actual words of the source material to bring the author’s world into ours.
Like the aforementioned Trypps films, The Invisible Mountain is something in between landscape and psychedelia, the quest depicted in Mount Analogue paralleled here by an extensive hike across North Eastern Europe that takes Russell and his primary subject, Tuomo Touvinen, from Finland down through Belarus. Shadowed by a Sonic Youth-sounding noise band whose live performances punctuate the long, durational stretches of walking footage, Russell captures this footage himself, serving as his own camera operator (he subscribes to the Rouchian idea of ciné-trance), and so the journey of his protagonist becomes both literally and metaphorically his own. Aware of this dynamic, The Invisible Mountain ultimately moves toward conflict between artist and subject, bringing Russell on screen to stoke doubts about the sustainability of the project, raising questions about its authorship and invoking the untimely passing of Daumal as an ill omen. It’s here that Russell once more complicates our understanding of his film, blowing away the distinction between fiction and reality so it becomes challenging to determine where dramatization begins and ends. The Invisible Mountain poses an idiosyncratic vision for literary adaptation that estimates the original poetically while demonstrating its contemporary relevance. Brought to life with an avant-garde sound design and green screen reappropriation, the world that Russell conjures here is appealing in its accessibility, organic yet totally, convincingly fantastical.
Published as part of FIDMarseille 2021 — Dispatch 2.