Filmmakers repurposing old home movies and photos to create a collage of their life has become a common technique in documentary filmmaking. At first glance, Christian Einshøj’s The Mountains seems like it will be another quirky link, as the film opens with a shot of the director and his brothers Fred and Alex dressed like superheroes in the lengthy chain of films to follow this proven formula. However, as one dives deeper into the documentary, it becomes clear that Einshøj has crafted something far more resonating.
Expanding on his award-winning documentary short Haunted, The Mountains offers an intimate portrait of the inability of the men in his Scandinavian family to connect after a tragedy occurs. Charting back to his youth, Einshøj details how the illness and eventual death of his brother Kristoff displaced the family physically and emotionally. A void was created that not even the birth of his youngest brother Alex, born a year after Kristoff’s passing, could fill.
Over the course of Einshøj’s documentary, the audience gains a better understanding of how the hole that pain dug has eroded into a chasm. Now an adult and facing the possibility of the family home being sold, Einshøj sets out to reconnect with the family that he essentially distanced himself from. He is not the only one, of course; each member seems to be running away from the past in their own way. His dad spent years dedicated to travelling for work and now must figure out what to do after being laid off; Fred became a closed off workaholic who is now experiencing an existential crisis while going through a divorce; and university student Alex has taken off to the Arctic Circle to continue his studies far away from the family.
As Einshøj works hard to chisel away at the walls each man has built around themself, secrets start to slowly pour out of the holes. It is only when this occurs that The Mountains begins to hint at the possibility of reconciliation and healing. What makes Einshøj’s film work as well as it does is the wonderful job he does highlighting the genuine bonds the family had, and lost, over the years. When one observes Einshøj and Fred running in the woods dressed as Batman and Robin, it feels like an authentic recreation of their childhood and not something simply staged for the camera.
If there is one drawback to the documentary, it is that his mother is not given much of a voice. While an observation of masculinity and the inability of men to express themselves and the pain they feel, Einshøj’s mother experienced the same trauma. Adding the female perspective to this tale of father and sons would have provided the film with another interesting layer to unpack.
As it stands, the film is an engaging exploration of grief and the unhealthy ways men bottle up their feelings. Constructing a film with genuine emotion and heart, Einshøj’s The Mountains is well worth the emotional journey.
The Mountains screened as part of Hot Docs 2023. It won the Best International Feature Documentary Award and its director, Christian Einshøj, took home the Emerging International Filmmaker Award at the festival.