What first drove men to climb to the top of a mountain when they were at the bottom? Would the summit offer a clearer image of our complicated existence? Do angels fly around there? Or does one have to battle dragons? This timeless journey exploring European mountain peaks is the last of a trio of films on the cultural significance of the landscape “At the top there is at the same time the end of our battles and the end which awaits us all”: this statement is explored through five historically distant moments (and an epilogue) and through testimony left by major figures: Exploring (1336): the Renaissance poet Francesco Petrarch and his brother organised a sort of expedition to reach the summit of Mont Ventoux in Provence, to discover what such a high mountain could offer. They were the first tourists; Living mountains (1518): in Carrara Michelangelo dug into the cracks of the earth searching for rocks enclosing statues. He wished only to cut away the fragments of stone to free the figures hiding there; Breaking the mundane egg (1671): when the theologian and writer Thomas Burnet crossed the Alps he was convinced that he was looking at a great ruin. He formulated an influential theory of how that confusion was caused in nature; Monstrous masses (1693): the British critic and dramatist John Dennis was the first to express the romantic sentiment of the sublime in his travel diary on the ascent of Mount Cenis; Types of dragons and holy places (1702): the prelate and scientist Jacob Scheuchzer collected proof of the existence of dragons in the Swiss Alps; Monte Commedia: the summit of Mont Ventoux: “At the beginning I had to adapt to an air quality I was not used to and to the extent of the panorama before me and I was as if stunned. The setting sun and the lengthening shadows of the mountain promptly reminded us that the time was coming when we should return. It was if we had suddenly awoken. I had seen enough of the mountain: I turned my eyes on myself and from that moment not even a syllable left my lips. We returned after dark. With the full moon which guided us with its friendly light”.
Anna Abrahams is a project manager at Amsterdam’s EYE Film Institute Netherlands; she also teaches at the Royal Academy of Arts in The Hague and is a filmmaker at the Rongwrong production studio.
She has worked as a director for the experimental filmmaker Filmbank, as a programmer for the International Documentary Film Festival (IDFA), and as a consultant for the R&D Department at the Nederlands Fonds voor de Film.