Friday 17 May 2019

Cannes 2019 - The Climb by Michael Angelo Covino

While many films make the trip from Sundance to Cannes, usually either in Un Certain Regard or Directors' Fortnight these days (and it has to be said, making less of an impact than they used to), director Michael Angelo Covino reserved its world premiere for the Croisette, a wise move considering how difficult it has become to stand out in Park City and the relative lack of coverage outside specialised outlets.

From the premise, The Climb feels very Sundance indeed and indeed the film started its life as a short that screened in Cannes, and which is not the opening scene of its longer version. In it, long time friends Mike and Kyle are cycling up a mountain road in the South of France when the latter decides it is the perfect moment to admit to the latter he had an affair with his fiancée, cue a hilarious race of sorts while recrimination and anger fly around with a perfect comedic timing that had the audience in stitches. The film is then split into several acts taking place over several years as we follow their complicated friendship.

However the film backs down from belly laughs to take us in a rather more subdued and bittersweet path, even if it still remains very funny at times. The film is obviously very personal (it was co-written by its two lead) and, being a first feature length film, the premise might make audiences fear the kind of self centered and indulgent bromance the indie world is often guilty of delivering but this is none of the sort.

The tone is remarkably low-key and as we quickly understand how the lives of Mike and Kyle took some very different paths and are diverging more and more with each chapter, but with the film is mercifully free of any self-pity. If anything (and it would be interesting to ask the leads and co-writers how close this is to their own lived), the director is not afraid to show the toxic side of Mike's friendship with Kyle, as the former does not exactly go anywhere while the former is comfortably settling into adulthood. Not so subconsciously trying to sabotage his friend's life and wanting to keep it all for himself, Mike also often expresses a barely hidden jealousy towards Kyle, especially with his romantic success, giving the opening scene a rather sinister underlining in retrospect.

At times The Climb feels like what would have happened if Kelly Reichardt's Old Joy had been expanded from its single week end narrative unity to several years. It never tries too hard to elicit sympathy from Mike however and does not feel too judgemental either, with the melancholy is palpable throughout. Friendship can be just as complicated as romance in adulthood and here it is beautifully explored in all its nuances and uncertainties. There is also an interesting reflection on contemporary masculinity and the way male bodies are filmed feels liberating and new.

The fragmented narrative structure could have made this feel like a whole season of an American comedy TV series stitched together but it is very coherent and self-contained.

The two leads Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin are wonderful, all in frailty, doubt and subtleties but they also wrote a wonderful part for Gayle Rankin as Marissa, Kyle's former girl-friend who comes back on the scene.

Despite what might appear like an unoriginal premise, The Climb is a charming and earnest bromance, both funny and moving.

Review by Laurent de Alberti

Star rating: 

Official Selection, Un Certain Regard

The Climb. USA 2019. Directed by and starring Michael Angelo Covino. Also starring Kyle Marvin, Gayle Rankin...

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