“Déjame Vivir” Film Review
Déjame Vivir is the second film in the Summits of My Life series directed by Sébastien Montaz-Rosset and about the life and adventures of Kilian Jornet. The film was released today via a live Internet video session with Kilian. The film is available by download or DVD purchase. It follows on the success of the first Summits of My Life movie, A Fine Line (review).
In Spanish, the phrase ‘déjame vivir’ means ‘let me live.’ On its most simplistic level, Déjame Vivir documents Kilian’s adventures during the summer of 2013, including his Mont Blanc running record in July, his experiments on Mount Elbrus in mid-September, and his speed record on the Matterhorn in August. But the film is also the widest of windows into Kilian’s world beyond events on calendars and numbers on watches. We see the way Kilian plays in the outdoors, his obsession with tracking the history of skyrunning, the deep intimacy he has in his relationships with others, true fear of the Matterhorn, and, perhaps for the first time, we see just one moment in which Kilian is exhausted.
When I pressed play to watch this film, I possessed the highest of expectations because I was watching a film about an athlete so incredible that he was recently named the 2014 National Geographic People’s Choice Adventurer of the Year that is directed by a world-renowned outdoor-sport filmmaker. I suppose everyone who sits down with this film will feel similarly. And I can virtually guarantee that none of us will be disappointed. The film is a full package: storytelling that full-on climbs into your heart; cinematography that is not only beautiful but makes you keep thinking, How the hell did they get that shot?; and documentation of athletic feats that are levels above anyone else in the world right now. Déjame Vivir had me captivated for each of its 62 minutes, and made me wish there were hours more to watch when it was over. (There are 17 minutes of bonus features, too, if you buy the DVD. I haven’t seen these and can’t comment on them.)
From a storytelling standpoint, the film is broken into four sections, a history of skyrunning, the Mont Blanc record, Kilian’s shenanigans in Russia, and the Matterhorn record. The film opens edgy: Kilian’s singing ‘Déjame Vivir,’ by Jarabe de Palo, and providing point-of-view footage from the Matterhorn’s summit ridge. The scene is mystical with the music and dizzying with the footage.
The film takes the next couple minutes to introduce its main ‘supporting’ actors, Italian mountaineer and former Matterhorn speed-record holder Bruno Brunod, the elite ski mountaineer Mathéo Jacquemoud, and maybe the best female trail and mountain runner in the world Emelie Forsberg.
The film next drops what I’ll call Skyrunning 101, in which the history of the sport is unfolded with some narration by Marino Giacometti, the founder and current president of the International Skyrunning Federation, and some pretty spectacular footage from early skyrunning races of people in crazy snowfield glissades as well as footage of Bruno Brunod’s Matterhorn record in 1995. Then, we get to see ‘The Scrapbook.’ This is one of those books with the peel-back plastic in which you lay whatever you want to save. It’s Kilian’s and it’s full of photos of Bruno and other skyrunning beasts of yore, and here we learn just how obsessed–and I mean this in a positive way–Kilian is with the sport of skyrunning as well as Bruno.
The film then skips to July on Mont Blanc. Here we really get to meet Mathéo, a then 22-year-old with a puppy-dog’s face, a stupid amount of skimo talent, and a hilarious grandmother. We see Mathéo and Kilian recceing the mountain together, roped up, casually walking around glacier crevasses, and talking about whether they’re going to slide head first or butt first down the snowfields on their shared record attempt. There’s little build-up in the storytelling of this section; we are soon on the flanks of Mont Blanc with Mathéo and Kilian as they are making their record attempt. Aside from the athletic feat that’s happening, this part of the film is fun to watch because Seb is filming these guys, no doubt carrying a decent amount of equipment, and keeping up with them for periods of time both on the uphill and the downhill. Mathéo and Kilian running and sliding downhill is a sight to behold, but you’ll probably feel a bit bad for Mathéo. He’s outmatched and barely holding his own on the downhill, roped into Kilian who looks as comfortable as a kid on a tiny sled hill, which makes you forget that he’s on an iconic, enormous mountain.
The camera doesn’t capture it, but Mathéo falls and can’t go on at record pace. The camera does capture their quick decision that Kilian will go on and Mathéo will stop. Before Kilian literally blasts down the mountain, he takes the time to hug Mathéo.
If nothing else, the sweeping tip-top vistas of Mont Blanc in this part of the film are ridiculous.
Next up, Kilian road trips to Russia to hang out on Mount Elbrus. Russian appears to be the only language Kilian doesn’t speak, and none of the commentary of the Russians is translated for us. I can only imagine we are meant to feel a little thrown off course, as Kilian appears to have felt. It’s never 100% clear, but it appears that Kilian went to Mount Elbrus to participate in the Elbrus Race, an uphill race on the mountain and, hopefully, to set an Mount Elbrus speed record.
Here we meet Vitaly Shkel, a clearly badass Russian mountain runner/mountaineer. He speaks in Russian and his words aren’t translated, so unless you speak Russian, you’ll walk away only understanding that he’s interested in breaking the Mount Elbrus speed record, too. Well, that and beating Kilian.
Next, the film transitions to the Elbrus attempt itself, which we believe was supposed to happen in concurrence with the race. However, continuous shit weather meant no actual record attempt on Elbrus is possible. At the top of race (which Vitaly and Kilian ran together, and which ended at 5,100 meters altitude instead of the 5,642-meter summit due to the weather), Vitaly decided enough was enough while Kilian went a bit further before deciding the same. Throughout this section on Elbrus, Seb conveys a frenetic energy (presumably intentionally) much like what Kilian probably felt during this whirlwind adventure. While potent, this leaves the narrative a bit confusing at times.
The final, longest, and most elaborately shared section of the film is Kilian’s Matterhorn record attempt. Immediately, the mood changes to gentle and intimate. Kilian and Emelie camp at the base on the Italian side of the Matterhorn. The film makes clear that both are intimidated by the staggering mountain, while giving us a runner’s perspective of the mountain by following the pair on numerous scouting runs.
Kilian has a prolonged conversation with the Cervinian mountain guides, some of whom were there when Bruno Brunod set the record in 1995. In that conversation, Kilian remains convinced the Bruno’s record is impossible. However, after several more runs on the mountain, Kilian begins to believe that the record might just be within his reach.
This portion of the film has touching intimacy, such as exchanges between Kilian and Emelie that can only be seen as loving and a revealing moment when Kilian shares his scrapbook with his long-held hero, Bruno.
Enter the record attempt. The final 10 minutes is chock full of the film’s protagonists: Kilian, Emelie, Bruno, and, once again, Mathéo. To the sound of a crowd cheering, Kilian rockets off up the Matterhorn. The attempt itself is portrayed via point-of-view cameras along the course as well as from the air. What Kilian does next is superhuman and Seb successfully conveys the effort as a master at the height of his art. In fact, watching Kilian here is like watching water flow downhill. The film concludes with Kilian finishing in the town of Cervinia among a crowd outpouring so much love for him that you can feel it through the screen.
During this record-setting run, you see Kilian’s commitment and focus. He finishes completely exhausted. He pushed reason, the mountain, and his body to the limit. Limits beyond those of anyone else. In those moments, he seemed truly alive. Déjalo vivir.
Déjame Viver Trailer
- Buy the DVD in English/or download the film in English or Italian here
- Kilian’s Summits of My Life website
Call for Comments
- Have you watched Déjame Vivir yet? If so, what did you think?
- What do you think of the ‘déjame vivir’ theme? What do you think Kilian means by this? What do you think the film is trying to convey about living life?