Users of the Letterboxd movie review site may be familiar with a guy named Neil Breen. He’s a fellow with a vague background; some believe he made some money in real estate. But he is infamous for a group of self-made, self-financed action thrillers in which, time and time again, he plays a computer genius with super-human powers who single-handedly saves the world from destruction. Breen’s unique combination of technical incompetence and unbridled hubris has made him a cult figure of sorts, gaining a cadre of fans who ironically appreciate his terrible films.
Money can’t buy talent, of course. But while watching The Mountain, I had to wonder. What would someone like Breen accomplish with a full film crew and the financial backing of a large European nation? Thomas Salvador’s second feature, improbably selected for this year’s Quinzaine, is a vanity project in all respects. 2014’s Vincent, the actor-writer-director’s previous film, was about a man (Salvador) who became a superhero when he came into contact with water. The Mountain, meanwhile, is about Pierre (Salvador), a robotics scientist turned mountain climber who discovers hidden powers atop a glacier in Chamonix Mont Blanc. (Perhaps fire and wind will follow, forming a states-of-matter tetralogy.)
The first three-quarters of The Mountain are not preposterous, merely bland. During a presentation for investors, Pierre is distracted by the snowy mountains outside. He then decides to abandon his old life and stay in Chamonix, purchasing all the gear he needs to scale the glaciers there. This extended introduction is methodical, and it is undeniably well shot. More than a character study, it resembles one of those winter sports documentaries that are a subgenre for climbing and skiing enthusiasts. Granted, The Mountain does feature a meet-cute with Léa (Louise Bourgoin), a chef at a ski resort restaurant, and a brief and awkward visit from Pierre’s mother and brothers who attempt to stage an intervention and bring Pierre back to his normal life.
But overwhelmingly, the first 90 minutes of The Mountain are a close observation of Pierre gearing up, pitching tents, and climbing the face of the glacier. This would appeal to specialized tastes even in the best of circumstances, but Salvador (who has appeared only in his own films) is a virtual black hole of charisma. His impassive gaze and immobile features could charitably be called “recessive,” but considering how Salvador the director places Salvador the actor front and center at all times, charity is quickly in short supply.
This frustration is only compounded in the final thirty minutes, when Pierre’s obsession with the glacier brings him face to face with a set of oozing, igneous creatures who, for reasons unknown, welcome him as one of their own, bestowing upon him a mysterious “gift.” I won’t spoil this ludicrous twist, save to say that if Vincent found Salvador casting himself as a would-be Aquaman, The Mountain concludes with the multi-hyphenate mutating into a bizarre combination of Doctor Manhattan and Mr. Freeze. Maybe you’ll find it funny. I, however, did not.
Published as part of Cannes Film Festival 2022 — Dispatch 5.