In 1985, two young climbers Joe Simpson and Simon Yates attempted a successful ascent of Siula Grande, a peak in the Peruvian Andes. However on the way down, Simpson slipped, landing badly and broke his leg. The pair then continued awkwardly down the mountain, with Yates lowering Simpson on a rope then descending himself. This continued until Simpson was unknowingly lowered into a deep crevasse. Yates not being able to hold on any longer or pull the rope back, decided to cut it. A decision unfairly criticised later, but one which ultimately saved their lives.
Simpson fell to the bottom of the crevasse and managed over several days without food or water to make it back to base camp, rejoining Yates. It was mainly luck that Yates who had arrived back a couple of days before hadn’t left with another companion who was waiting. They were to leave the morning Simpson called out from the darkness.
Stories about the strength of the human spirit are always great and this film certainly achieves telling it. However, this is basically a one hour tv documentary that someone felt was suitable as a 100 minute film for general release. And why not? It certainly raked in some awards. I didn’t find the story hugely remarkable and was glad when the credits finally rolled. The film relies on some very good reconstruction and interviews with the men in question, but feels padded out. The director Kevin Macdonald, who has made a number of often good documentaries (plus The Last King of Scotland) at one point felt an offhand comment about Simpson having Boney M’s ‘Brown Girl’ going round his head, was worthy of major significance. A lot of the time we’re simply watching Simpson’s doppelganger looking wretched or the three men relating their story in a bit of a rambling manner straight to camera.
Touching the Void feels rather tiring to watch and there is little sense of anything special about the direction. It’s quite vanilla with the usual visual effects that tv documentaries rely on to add drama to limp moments. Compare this with Werner Herzog’s documentary about Juliane Koepcke, who survived falling from a plane that broke up in mid air over Peru in 1971 - Julianes Sturz in den Dschungel (Wings of Hope). Music by Alex Heffes and Boney M.