This Hovering Documentary on Ladies’s Rock Climbing is a Netflix Should-Watch

0
55

My climbing experience is limited to teenage birthday parties in gyms that reek of palm sweat and stale granola bars. But as I watched the four elite athletes from The Wall: Climb For Gold sprint like spider monkeys up bizarrely contorted walls, I did what my childhood friends did when I got stuck on a tiny nub, frozen and useless 20 feet in the air. From my comfortable couch, I yelled, “Just put your foot up!”

But this documentary, originally released in January and due out on Netflix Sunday, May 1, quickly reveals that rock climbing is a lot more complicated than that. To quote Shauna Coxsey, one of the featured climbers, “You have no fucking idea what’s going on.”

Led by Formula 1: Drive to Survive director Nick Hardie, The Wall: Climb For Gold follows four women from around the world as they begin 2019 and compete for a spot in the first-ever Olympic climbing competition. You’re tasked with assembling massive internal structures strewn with pegs that seem impossible to grasp — sometimes even without a rope to hold them aloft. We are given an intimate look at the physical and psychological hurdles faced by Britain’s Coxsey, Slovenia’s Janja Garnbret, US climber Brooke Raboutou and Japan’s Miho Nonaka as they overcome through training, injury and mental struggles to overcome the made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The wall seamlessly takes us back and forth between the four countries. It accomplishes this feat by giving us a deep sense of place through stunning aerial footage: cliffs looming in the wilderness, Tokyo sprawling beneath Mount Fuji, rock climbers scaling gigantic illuminated walls in front of a roaring crowd. In close-ups, it distills all that pressure on the people experiencing it: white chalk on fingers, tense hands clinging to climbing holds. Frequent changes in mood, pacing and visual style allow us to feel first hand the contrast at the heart of the film: the golden glory of competition and victory and the utter isolation of the gym where 99% of the Olympic lifestyle is actually spent.

brooke-lookup.png

US climber Brooke Raboutou stands with her mother, veteran climber and four-time World Cup winner Robyn Erbesfield-Raboutou.

All conditions media

As the four women tackle challenge after challenge, old home movies remind us of the childhood that brought them to this point. A little girl climbing up a door frame and doing wild somersaults. The first pair of second-hand climbing shoes. A father’s arms outstretched to catch his daughter should the aspiring boulderer take a plunge.

It is just as fascinating to watch the parents. One family howls in agony while another around the world jumps for joy. (I can’t imagine the pride and nervousness you feel sitting in a stadium watching your child compete for Olympic gold. Not to mention a pandemic forcing you to be behind a TV screen to cheer for them .)

With their sculpted muscles and beguiling agility, these athletes seem invincible. But they are constantly plagued by constant, suffocating stress. From feeling owed the world is perfect, to missing out on normal life, to confronting the very real possibility of screwing up the big day, rock climbing is as much a mental struggle as it is physical. Throw in a year-long delay and the uncertainty of the pandemic, and it’s a recipe for psychological chaos.

Still, The Wall is a story of remarkable resilience. When I walked into this sports documentary, I expected, well, a sports documentary. And yes, it delivered all the nail-biting excitement and adrenaline rushes one could ask for. But Hardie’s film succeeds in showing us the people in the spotlight. At its core, these are women who really love climbing rocks.

PS Nainita Desai, the composer behind the film’s epic but sophisticated score, deserves a nod. And an award! Warning: The soundtrack is so motivating that it may force you to scale huge vertical surfaces.