In a podcast excerpted at the start of “The Alpinist,” the rock climber Alex Honnold, from the Oscar-winning documentary “Free Solo,” is asked to name a climber who impresses him. He cites Marc-André Leclerc, a Canadian whom Honnold says takes on some of the sport’s most difficult challenges in “such a pure style.” Honnold’s remarks suggest Leclerc would happily ascend in obscurity, keeping his accomplishments between him and the mountains.
“The Alpinist” — directed by Peter Mortimer (who narrates) and Nick Rosen, both specialists in climb documentaries — tries to pin Leclerc down. The difficulties go beyond filming him at great heights on rock faces covered with ice or snow. While the lanky, curly haired, almost goofy Leclerc proves an affable screen presence — after we’ve watched him ax his way up an icicle wall in the Canadian Rockies, he describes it nonchalantly as “a really good day out” — his commitment to the documentary is tenuous. At one point, he ditches the filmmakers. When they reconnect, he points out that the camera’s presence interferes with the notion of climbing alone: “It wouldn’t be a solo to me if somebody was there.”
The movie could stand to demystify how some of its most terrifying early shots were filmed. (Later on, we’re told Leclerc agreed to carry a small camera himself to shoot part of a conquest in Patagonia.) But it does capture its subject’s philosophy. As with Honnold in “Free Solo,” the film raises the prospect that Leclerc was innately predisposed toward thrill-seeking. In Argentina, he says he eats every pre-climb dinner as if it might be his last.
Rated PG-13. Dangerous climbs. Running time: 1 hour 32 minutes. In theaters.
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