The Velvet Café

A room for thoughts about movies

Archive for the ‘The Way Back’ Category

A note from the management and my top five mountain and trekking movies

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Dear customers! Dear friends, guests, readers, writers and commenters! Dear cinephiles!

It’s time for me to leave the protective darkness in the theatre and head out in the real world for a little while. During my vacation there will be very little activity here. There might be some occasional stray post that I’ve prepared, but mostly it will be quiet.

My plan for the next week is to go trekking in the Swedish mountains. So I came up with the idea to make a list post, presenting five of my favorite movies about  favourite movies about trekking, climbing and survival in the mountains.

Are you ready? Here we go!


This film is based on the true story about a rugby who crashed with an airplane in the middle of the Andes Mountains and what the few survivors went through until they finally were rescued. I read the book as a teenager, not once but several times. I don’t think it was the fact that they ended up eating from the dead bodies to survive that tickled me. It was more about the entire situation, the group dynamics and the spiritual development they went through. At two hours the film could never be as detailed as the book, but it was still a very good one.

Into the Wild
It’s often considered a matter of fact that a film that is based on a book never can be as good as the original source, provided that you read the book first. It may be true in many cases, but not for Into the Wild. I read Krakauer’s book about Christopher McCandless escape into the wilderness long before I watched the film, but while the book was OK, it couldn’t match the film in terms of being emotionally engaging. If it’s closer to the truth or not I obviously can’t say. But it has stunningly beautiful cinematography, great acting performances and a soundtrack by Eddie Vedder that I never get tired of listening to.

Touching the Void
I think I’ve read Joe Simpson’s book Touching the Void at least three times and I’ll probably read it a few more times during my lifetime. It’s more than just a survival story; he’s an extraordinary good writer as well. I already knew every step and turn he took on his way back to the camp after his partner had been forced to cut the rope due to an accident. But it’s one thing to just read the words and another thing to see the actual places on screen. The documentary was excellent.

127 Hours
The idea to make an entire movie about a guy who was stuck with his arm under a rock sounds a bit crazy. It’s not exactly cinematic. How long would it take before the viewers start to scratch themselves? But despite the challenge or maybe because of it, Danny Boyle wanted to do this. As with the rest of the survival movies, I had already read the book and like everyone else I knew how the film would end before I started to watch it. And yet I was on my edge all way through. Danny Boyle sure pulled this one off, and so did James Franco, who is excellent in the role as the climber.

The Way Back
This film begins with an escape from a camp under Stalin’s terror regime in Siberia, but after a while the bad guys tune out and it turns into a story about man vs nature as the prisoners continue on their quest to cross deserts and mountains to their destination in India. Considering the scale of it and the multitude of magnificent landscape views, I wish I had seen it in a theatre.

A source of inspiration
There’s my selection of mountain themed movies and I realize that it probably looks a bit nutty. So much darkness, misery, death and disease! How can anyone possibly get inspired to head out for trekking in the mountains after watching those films? If they have any message, it would be that you’re safer and more comfortable if you stay at home.

Buy on some level I think they give me some kind of fuel: a spark to try really hard and not give up at whatever – I’m sure – comparatively minor obstacle I might encounter during my week away.

If I get tired of the dried food I can always think that I’ve got plenty to eat compared to what they had in Alive.

If I’ll need to take off my trousers crossing a river, walking through freezing cold water, I still know that I will be able to cross it unlike what happened in Into the Wild.

If I’m unlucky and make a slip step I might hurt my wrist, but medical help will never be further away than 20 kilometres and if I break my leg someone will pick me up. I won’t have to crawl on the ground for long stretches, like Joe in Touching the Void did.

I’m in company and people know where I am. If the unlikely event would happen that all of us would get stuck under a rock, there would be people who would go looking for us.  We wouldn’t be on our own as in 127 hours. There’s no overhanging risk that I would have to cut off my own arm.

And while the way probably will feel very long at times, it’s laughable compared to the stretches covered in The Way Back.

The weather forecast says it will rain for a week, with outdoor temperatures just above the freezing point. But as soon as I think back to any of those five movies, my small nuggets of discomfort will be put into proportion. And that’s why they’re so inspirational.

And now it’s time to say goodbye. Don’t be shy while I’m gone. Help yourself! Check the fridge for leftovers and the archives for blog posts you may have missed. Have a drink in the bar and a comfortable seat and I’ll be back in no time.

See you! Cheers!


Written by Jessica

July 13, 2012 at 5:00 pm

Hitting my head for not watching this one in a theatre

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I love to go to the cinema. Given the choice I’d watch all films in a proper theatre. Popcorn smell and mobile rattling aside, it gives an experience I never get at home. It’s epic. It’s immersive. It brings me to places. It captures my mind and locks out the trivialities of life with a power field, an almost impenetrable shield.

Hence I go a lot to the movies. Over the last year I’ve been scored about one cinema visit per week, which makes me a good customer and the holder of a golden card, the top level of the multiplex theatre’s loyalty program.

But I can’t watch everything in a theatre – for time reasons and for budget reasons. Unavoidably some movies will be left out for the moment, to be picked up later on after their DVD release. In most cases this works pretty fine but sometimes you watch something that you realize you should have watched in a theatre because it was made for a bigger format.

And you hit yourself hard in the head for not grabbing the chance where you had it.

I know a lot of people feel like that about The Tree of Life from last year. I managed to catch that one. But I missed out on another one for some inexplicable reason, which I’m finally caught up with now: The Way Back. I’m hitting my head. Hard. I should have seen it on a big screen when I could.

My love for Peter Weir
Peter Weir’s name should have been reason enough for me to see it the proper way. You see, I’ve liked quite a few of his movies in the past. They’re wildly different to each other and to be honest I can’t quite tell what the uniting factor is- apart from that they’re good.

Truman Show! Picnic at Hanging Rock! Even Dead Poets Society warrants an exclamation mark. It was unfortunate that I somehow was overexposed to it for a while, which has given it a backlash in my memory. But I think it’s more a case of an overdose, like when you’ve had too much of a certain type of food and suddenly start question if you really like it than that the film actually is bad.

Another Weir film that deserves a special mentioning is one of his earliest, The Cars that Ate Paris from 1974. This is a weird little movie about a small town in Australia where the inhabitants make a living of causing car accidents, picking all the valuables from them. It oozes of low budget and has a 5,4 rating on IMDb, which of cause increases my love for it. Don’t we all need to have a little darling that few people have heard of and even fewer like?

Then there are other Weir movies that are more forgettable. I’m thinking of Green Card, with Gérard Depardie and Andie MacDowell arranging a pretence marriage. It’s a standard romantic comedy, no less, no more. So let’s just forget about it and pretend someone else made it.

Survival theme
All in all Weir is a director I want to follow so I should have watched it. Besides it had a theme that was right up my alley: survival in the wilderness under harsh circumstances. It’s a genre I never grow tired of that includes movies such as 127 hours, Into the Wild, Alive and Touching the Void. I might even include The Road in it. Movies that are designed to make me thankful of what I have in life: the ability to sneak into the kitchen to have a sandwich at night. The option to take a shower in the morning. A soft pillow to hug.

The Way Back is exactly that kind of film, telling the story about a group of prisoners who escaped a gulag camp in Siberia and walked 4 000 miles, ending up in Tibet. It’s a long trip and they endure everything you could possibly think of – hunger, thirst, snow- and sandstorms, mosquitoes, illness and exhaustion.

What makes it especially well suited for a theatre experience is the grandness of it. Those people aren’t just poking around in one small spot where they eat roots, snails or whatever they can get hold of.  The landscapes they’re moving through are no short of magnificent. While the actors are just fine (with a special mentioning to Colin Farrell who shows that he’s far more than just “that actor with the eyebrows” and to Saoirse Ronan, who quickly is becoming one of my favorite actors – astonishingly good for her age), they’re still kind of small and interchangeable compared to the one who has the leading role: Nature itself.

Without knowing, my guess is that The Way Back probably wasn’t a huge hit at the box office. Such a long movie, which basically mostly is just a long stretched out walk of suffering – no romance, no giggles, very little excitement or action – is a hard sell to most people.

But I’m a weird person (no puns intended). I loved it.

And next time a Peter Weir film turns up at a theatre I promise to watch it at once. No matter what strange new direction his career will take next.

The Way Back (Peter Weir, US, 2010) My rating: 4/5

Written by Jessica

January 24, 2012 at 1:00 am

Posted in The Way Back