Magazine article Screen International

'Three Peaks': Toronto Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Three Peaks': Toronto Review

Article excerpt

Dir/scr. Jan Zabeil. Ger-It, 2017, 94m.

Three Peaks

Dir/scr. Jan Zabeil. Ger-It, 2017, 94m.

Like the picturesque allure of towering mountains from a distance, domestic bliss is a treacherous idyll in Three Peaks, the psychologically complex, emotionally compelling second feature from German filmmaker Jan Zabeil after his San Sebastian best new director-winning The River Used To Be A Man. Reuniting with that film’s Alexander Fehling, and taking Oscar-nominee Bérénice Bejo and movie debutant Arian Montgomeryalong for the rocky trek, the writer/helmer dismantles a fledgling family’s fragile sense of contentment during an initially quiet, ultimately revelatory Italian Dolomites trip.

Three Peaks takes the time to recognise the texture lurking beneath its symbolism

Here, getting away from it all proves an impossible concept; as much as snowy alps and a cute log cabin may catch the eye, they can’t distract from the troubles lurking within their midst. It’s a premise that previously worked well in Force Majeure, though Zabeil eschews acerbic slices of married life for a contemplative dissection of a man’s tentative relationship with his girlfriend’s young son. An astute choice, it won Three Peaks the Piazza Grande prize in Locarno, with a Toronto berth following, additional festival attention certain, and modest theatrical interest capable of being cultivated.

The parallels between the film’s frosty setting and its vacationing characters arrive early, the feature filled with silently imposing terrain and largely unspoken struggles. Yet Zabeil doesn’t favour a heavy-handed approach. Indeed, though other obvious moments arise - describing the real-life titular landmark as a father, mother and child; watching a shadow literally grow over an escapade off of the beaten path - Three Peaks takes the time to recognise the texture lurking beneath its symbolism, and to use its instances of thematic shorthand as a path to deeper insights.

Ultimately, that’s what the outdoorsy Aaron (Fehling), his paramour of two years, Lea (Bejo), and her eight-year-old Tristan (Montgomery) all seek during their alpine jaunt. Smiling and superficially happy, they travel from resort swims to a remote chalet with a spring in their steps but a weight on their shoulders. …

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