An edit of footage that was shot before 1949, Climbing is another of Brzozowska’s documentary masterpieces. It stands as a testament to her genius for narrating the eternal battle of man against nature. Surrounded by a compositional bracket of two panoramic sequences exposing the mesmerising beauty and the frightening grandeur of the Tatras, the story in the film follows two men, who are determined to reach a mountaintop.
We first spot a nervous tension on their faces when they get ready for their adventure and one of them keeps puffing his cigarette. As the narrator urges us to accompany them on their way to reach the summit, they work on fixing their crampons. Then we observe them climbing over slippery, icy rock formations. Their equipment seems fragile. A small avalanche amplifies the frightening atmosphere of their ascent.
Occasional moments of silent, observational shots interweave with narrator’s comments: ‘Experience doesn’t prove to be helpful’ or ‘The rocks cut into his ribcage’. The off-screen music builds tension as in Hitchcock’s thrillers and changing camera angles amplify what already seems to be an extremely strenuous effort. When Brzozowska finally takes us all the way up to the top, it is only to tell us that these men will do the same when they wake up the next morning.
The fight against nature is cyclical, never-ending, but each small win ‘fills the heart with joy’, says the narrator in one of his concluding lines. At the end of the film, with satisfaction, we follow the climbers’ gaze out at the endless, wintery landscape.