By Gregory Crofton
Marc-André Leclerc climbs the tallest of mountains, some covered with snow and ice, with no ropes to keep him from falling. Climbers call this free soloing. One mistake and you’re dead, and it wouldn’t be a pretty death.
Footage of Leclerc climbing is not easy to come by. He likes to be alone as he hooks and claws a way up some of the most challenging ice-covered peaks, says it allows him to better appreciate a first ascent.
“And when you watch him climb, he’s just magic on the rock,” says Hevy Duty, a respected climber based in Squamish, British Columbia, an area not far from where Leclerc was born. “He’s got style. He doesn’t lunge. He’s very precise. And there is not the slightest margin for error.”
Leclerc comes across as smart and charismatic whenever directors Peter Mortimer (The Dawn Wall) and Nick Rosen get him to appear on camera. But Leclerc is a true weirdo who gets “squirrel brain”(he’d been diagnosed with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder as a child) when he’s on the ground and idle, someone who might be fried from huge doses of acid he took when was into partying.
“More to have casual fun adventure, cruise around,” says Leclerc, with a sly smirk, explaining what motivates him to do such dangerous soloing. Staring into the camera and saying things like that, he charms you with his raw youth and Canadian accent.
Four things make “The Alpinist” a permanent part of my top ten documentary list. First, Marc himself, he’s a fantastic character — a true individual. Second is the superb direction and tight editing of this 93-minute film. It moves fast. Mortimer knows how to tell a climbing story, he’s told many.
My favorite scene involves a sort of animation. Old books about mountain men, ones that inspired Leclerc to become an alpinist, are made to come alive on screen with blowing snow.
The story itself comes third. All great docs go places you don’t expect, and many of those places are difficult to believe. They also require at least several years to unspool. Fourth is, and every great doc requires this, a fitting soundtrack.
So go watch this film on Netflix. It will move you. It will entertain you. And it will always be one of my favorites.