NORTH FACE tells the true story of a pair of German Alphinists (Benno Fürmann and Florian Lukas) who compete against an Austrian team to climb the most dangerous rock face in the Alps–the Eiger. What sets this suspenseful film a notch above your standard adventure fare is the dichotomy of the German and Austrian elite in the resort at the base of the mountain, as the two countries face off while the Nazi threat moves closer and closer to reality. The score by Christian Kolonovits is just as dramatic and bold as the perilous expedition–and political atmosphere–it represents.
The score starts with the main theme, a somber, minor-key melody based on a four-note motif. The theme is filled with portent as the French horns convey the power and danger of the mighty “Nordwand”.
The second major theme is a yearning love theme for Toni (Fürmann) and his photo-journalist girlfriend Luise (Johanna Wokalek). Strings surge forward with unexpressed emotion and a sense that time is passing them by.
In dramatic tracks like “Hinterstoisser Quergang,” “Umkehr” and “Toni Gibt Auf,” the musical hammering of pitons–a combination of metal and prepared piano–is used as a striking percussive device. At times the strings swirl along with the driving wind and snow in dramatic counterpoint. But no matter the musical backdrop, the metallic sound is chilling, empty and lonely.
Kolonovits’ harmonies are rich, with more than a touch of Wagner and Bruckner to them. You may also hear some LORD OF THE RINGS influences in there as well, especially in the bass line of “Eigerthema.” An orchestrated version of Chopin’s Prelude No. 20 in C Minor provides the emotional backdrop for “Mehringerfund”.
For such a dramatic story, the score ends on a poignant note with a particularly beautiful “Epilog” and a new theme for Luise’s life in America. Filled with regret and loss, the cue is a moving end to the score. As the end credits rolls, the cue continues with a reprise of the major themes, bringing this excellent score to a dramatic close.
There’s nothing subtle about Kolonovits’ score, but when man is pitted against nature, it shouldn’t be. Large stretches of film rest solely on the visual danger of the men on the rock face and the music. While the score may come across as a bit too much for the confines of television (even a big screen TV), who cares when the music is this good?
If you’re a fan of full-bodied orchestral scores, then you shouldn’t miss this one. I’ve returned to this score over and over since I first heard it in January and it never disappoints.