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Life Ascending, A (DVD Review)

22 Mar, 2012 By: John Latchem

Ptarmigan Films
$24.95 DVD
Not rated.

Ruedi Beglinger was born for a life in the mountains. Following in the footsteps of his father, Swiss-born Beglinger became a mountain guide, leading excursions through the slopes for travelers seeking a respite from the grind of civilization.

“I can go away from the mountains, but just for so long,” Beglinger tells us. “And then I have to be back.”

Later in this splendid profile from Stephen Grynberg, Beglinger couches his relationship to the mountains in divine terms: “It’s my church. This is what my religion is.”

Beglinger runs the Selkirk Mountain Experience in British Columbia, a location so remote it’s accessible only via helicopter. Beglinger routinely leads guests into the wilderness to ski the pristine slopes of Canada’s Selkirk Mountains. He found the spot in June 1985 and received permission to build a lodge, where he lives with his wife and two daughters, who have a tutor flown in to tend to their education. (The kids get their own bonus featurette to discuss what it’s like to grow up on a mountain.)

Grynberg’s documentary isn’t trying to paint the Beglinger life as an ideal. There is constant talk of the potential for an avalanche, from Ruedi discussing his father’s excursions as a rescue hiker, to his wife discussing how to live with the anxiety that every time Ruedi takes a group out, he may never return.

The fears came to fruition in January 2003, when an avalanche buried all 13 members of a group being led by Beglinger. He survived, but seven people were killed, causing a lot of public scrutiny. The event and its aftermath prompted Grynberg to make this movie.

In an interview in the bonus section, Grynberg compares this film with one he did about 10 years earlier, called Love From Ground Zero, as both dealt with representations of loss. In A Life Ascending, it all comes back to the spiritual grandeur of the mountain, and a poem called Raven’s End that espouses when people die in the mountains they return as a raven. Sure enough, every year during the anniversary of the accident, a raven returns to the lodge, identified by the Beglinger’s as the spirit of one of those lost in the 2003 avalanche.

Five years after the incident, Ruedi confesses to having moments of self-doubt about his abilities, but the mountain was too vital to his identity to prevent him from carrying on, and A Life Ascending does a good job of depicting just why that is.

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