Higher and Lower – THE CLIMB: A Review and Interview

By Andrea Chase

The Climb begins with life-long friends Mark (director and co-writer Michael Angelo Covino) and Kyle (co-writer Kyle Marvin) cycling up a steep hill in the south of France. Mark is ahead, though both are panting heavily with the exertion. Kyle, who is about to be married, is thanking Mark for suggesting the ride, while also waxing rhapsodic about the bucolic beauty of the scene. Mark, the more experienced cyclist, is giving Kyle advice on how to pace himself. Then, while Kyle extols the virtues of his intended, Mark drops the bomb.

That would be that Mark had a fling with her, but it’s all over now. Kyle’s reaction is the only predictable moment in the entire film. Even as he rages, Mike continues to offer advice on how to best scale the hill. As a metaphor for their relationship, which will be explored with great care and startling insight over the next 90 minute or so, it is perfection. As is what happens next, when Mark finds himself in an emergency room while Kyle hovers over him protectively, on the verge of forgiveness.

George Wendt as Jim; Photo by Eugénie Pigeonnier

Told in a series of vignettes, the story of these two unfolds over the course of several years as they deal with rites of passage and holiday gatherings that are rife with both banality and exquisite tension. In an impeccable blending of form and narrative, Covino uses long takes that appear to meander between the central action and its periphery, yet the combination creates a world that is places these two solidly in their separate and shared realities. It creates emotional immediacy even as it balances with ravishing delicacy on a razor’s edge between farce and pathos.

The tone of that farce is decidedly deadpan, with Mike a painfully self-aware boor (he uses a different word) with Buster Keaton eyes, and Kyle, a Koala bear of sweetness gifted with fluid grace and a gift for carving turkey. His lip-synching attempt at seduction is dazzling. They, and everyone else, use inflection rather than volume to make their points. It is the veneer of civility and normalcy that makes things like the fake smiles at a family gathering so menacing, and the emotional violence, when it erupts with startling regularity, the lesser jolt.

Though spotlighting the quotidienne, an element of surrealism permeates throughout. It’s not just when a union gravedigger joins his fellows in a spiritual, or the folk song performed by a Slavic trio on a frozen lake after a bachelor party gone wrong. It’s also when seasons melt into each other in one long take, or when the conversation turns, as it often does, to why one character loves another. With the acknowledgement that this is artifice, the dialogue is free to operate on a level that comments on proceedings that leave more than a note of mystery for the viewer to fill in, and situations can evolve in ways that are inevitable but not realistic. Hence Mike finds himself on a romantic New Year’s getaway with Kyle and his new fiancée (irresistibly brittle Gayle Rankin), which gifts us with a scene of bickering and obliviousness on a ski lift that is a small gem in and of itself.

Left to Right: Gayle Rankin as Marissa, Kyle Marvin as Kyle, Michael Angelo Covino as Mike; Photo by Zach Kuperstein.

As these two characters muddle through their failings and strengths, not to mention the emotional complexity of their relationship, THE CLIMB becomes an unexpected and lucid discourse on the nature of vice and virtue. It is as surprising as it is daring, and it finds a perfect medium in this study of transcendent absurdity.

The Climb opened in theaters only on November 13, 2020. 

Official Website

THE CLIMB is a Sony Pictures Classics release, runs 98 minutes, is in English, and is rated R by MPA. 

Photos courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics.Andrea Chase interviews Michael Angelo Covino and Kyle Marvin. 

Photo by Brittainy Newman; courtesy of The New York Times

When I spoke with Michael Angelo Covino (left) and Kyle Marvin (right) on March 5, 2020, they had just finished cycling the more challenging hills of San Francisco. They brought their avid love for cycling to their film, The Climb, which begins and ends with telling rides through landscapes physical and emotional.  It is, without question, one of the funniest films that I have ever seen, and one of the most perceptive. In it, they play Michael and Kyle, lifelong friends who, in the course of the film, will go through many ups and downs as they display the sort of masculine vulnerability not usually seen on screen. Not to mention a devastating toxicity as relentless as it is well meaning. Or is it?

We started out by talking about that vulnerability and the importance of originality in a marketplace replete with remakes and sequels.

They went on to describe the pleasures and perils of the film’s use of long takes coupled with a counter-intuitive, but highly effective, use of long shots rather than close-ups, and how a deux-chevaux car ended up in front of three real chevaux (horses), as well as the metaphors of cycling and of the physical ordeals each character endures.

We finished up with how their filmmaking style is a statement about trusting the audience’s intuition, the fungible nature of selflessness v. selfishness, the power of pathos, and the importance of a color palette.

Listen to the interview here.

About director/writer/actor Michael Angelo Covino

Mike is a filmmaker and actor from New York. He produced HUNTER GATHER, which won a Special Jury Prize at SXSW and was nominated for the Cassavetes Award in 2017. He also produced KICKS, which premiered at Tribeca Film Festival and was released by Focus World in 2016, KEEP IN TOUCH, which he co-wrote and acted in, and BABYSITTER, SXSW 2015. In 2016 he was named to Moviemaker Magazine’s “25 Screenwriters to Watch” list. THE CLIMB is his feature directorial debut based on the short film that premiered at the Sundance in 2018.

About writer/actor Kyle Marvin

Kyle Marvin is a writer, producer and actor from Portland, Oregon. He has produced both features and short films that played in Cannes, Sundance, SXSW and Tribeca. Kyle has written a number of projects including THE CLIMB premiering at Cannes in 2019, Conventional Wisdom a TV pilot sold to FOX, an animated feature AMOEBA with House Of Cool and a thriller called THE QUENCH with Bron Studios.

Un Certain Regard Winner – Cannes Film Festival 2019

Official Selection – Toronto International Film Festival 2019

Official Selection – Telluride Film Festival 2019

Official Selection – Sundance Film Festival 2020

Official Selection – South by Southwest Film Festival 2020

 

Andrea Chase has been reviewing movies on radio, television, in print, and via the internet in the San Francisco Bay area for over 20 years. She says, “After moving here from Louisiana many years ago, I received my film education the way nature and the Lumiere Brothers intended–in movie theaters, both the mainstream venues that showcased the latest from La La Land, and the art houses that were more numerous in days gone by. They gave me a thorough grounding in current and classic cinema from all over the world and from the silents to the latest cutting edge Hong Kong flick.”

She is a member of the Women Film Critics Circle, as well as the San Francisco Film Critics Circle, and has been heard on non-commercial syndicated radio since 1996, and on British Forces Broadcasting throughout the world. Currently, she is the Movie Chick on KGO-Radio’s Maureen Langan show,  her series, Behind the Scenes, is part of PRX.org with over 350 episodes, and she contribute reviews to The New Fillmore.  Both Rotten Tomatoes and the MRQE link to her site, KillerMovieReviews.com, making the world safe for film lovers since 2002 with reviews and interviews. She recently reviewed The Artist’s Wife for EDF.

 

Watch the original award-winning short film, The Climb.

 

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