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Venice Opener ‘Everest’ Soars Below the Line

Nominations for sound and cinematography could be in the cards.

After kicking off with such awards season heavies as “Black Swan,” “Gravity” and “Birdman” in recent years, the Venice Film Festival opted for Baltasar Kormákur’s “Everest” to open the 72nd annual festivities this time around.

At first blush, it seemed like a curious choice to me. It’s a great international staging ground for the film, so it made some sense. But even though Venice is certainly not as concerned with being a part of the awards season discussion as other fests, it felt like that spot was recently being groomed for certain kinds of splashes.

That’s just getting lost in the frivolous “meaning” of these things, though. Because at the end of the day, with a stacked cast and plenty of cinematic spectacle to go around, this harrowing account of the 1996 Mount Everest disaster is a perfectly fine way to get things going on the Lido. Not only that, but I wouldn’t shortchange its awards prospects, either. It’s emotional, grueling and a bit of a high-wire act, really. It’s difficult to string a series of procedural beats together on a mountaintop and make it feel like an actual movie, but Kormákur pulls it all together with ease.

Below the line is where the film really soars, beginning with what you hear. In bringing the aural environment of the film to life, Oscar-winning sound designer Glenn Freemantle (“Gravity”) and his team really put you there. Whipping wind and snow, the creaking of frozen ladders, the low-end cracking of overhanging cornices — it’s all part of the experience.

Lenser Salvatore Totino (“Cinderella Man,” “Frost/Nixon”) captures it all very intimately, too; this isn’t a movie full of helicopter shots looking to just wow you with scenery. The film rarely goes wide and seems very particular about when to use imagery to screw around with your equilibrium. Mostly it seems concerned with placing you right there alongside these climbing teams, and when it’s all said and done, you almost feel like you summited, too — and you know you never, ever want to attempt it in real life.

That’s quite the accomplishment. And a shout-out, too, to film editor Mick Audsley for assembling the footage in a non-disorienting way that only adds to the feeling of being along for the ride. (Check out Universal’s “Trailer Companion” featurette above for more on the making of the film.)

So I could certainly see the various branches speaking up for the film on their ballots. And who knows besides? Directors will appreciate what was achieved. Actors will dig the ensemble (Keira Knightley does quite a lot with the usual stuck-at-home-worrying-on-the-phone role, by the way). I wouldn’t rule out a higher awards ceiling, particularly if it becomes a hit.

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