Cape Town - Compelling from the start, guaranteed to keep audiences on the edge of their seats, The Mountain Between Us, is an engrossing story about survival.
Kate Winslet plays Alex, fearless, pragmatic photojournalist and Idris Elba is Ben a reserved surgeon.
After a plane crash the pair are stranded on a remote, snow covered mountain, the strangers embark on a journey that’s fraught with danger, across hundreds of miles of wilderness.
See the trailer here:
Filming in the mountains of Canada in the middle of a bleak winter, the gifted director, Hany Abu-Assad, brings authenticity to the drama.
The director sat down for a quick Q&A in Los Angeles.
Can you explain the premise of the movie?
Two strangers charter an airplane because they both need to be somewhere urgently. Alex (Winslet) is on her way to her wedding; Ben (Elba) is a doctor and needs to do a surgery. Their flight was cancelled, so they came up with an idea of chartering a plane. The pilot has a stroke and their plane crashes. They survive, she’s injured, they don’t know each other and each is depending on a stranger to survive.”
They don’t have much in common?
In the beginning, they don’t even appreciate each other at all. Kate’s character, Alex, is a war journalist and photographer. She’s outspoken. She’s an extrovert. He’s an introvert. He’s a brain surgeon. He has a feeling for small details, but he does not see the big picture. She’s the opposite. She sees the big picture, but not the small details. So they need each other. They are very different characters and that is why it’s such an appealing story. When they fight, their chances of surviving diminish, but when they work together, they appreciate each other even in their differences. They have to forge a bond.
What interests you about the theme of survival?
It is about the idea of surviving without losing your humanity. I’m really curious about what happens to human beings under extreme circumstances. This is fiction, but you can see from real life stories that the moment people lose their humanity, they don’t survive. When you are ready to sacrifice yourself for others, your chances of staying alive are greater. It’s an interesting theme because it’s not obvious. Everybody thinks: ‘when it comes to surviving, it is me first.’ But that’s not true.
The film is cantered on two strong characters. What do Kate and Idris bring to their roles?
Idris is a great actor, one of our best. He’s real, he’s emotional but he is also tough. You believe that this actor can survive the mountains (laughs). You need a real ‘man’ to carry this role, the combination of a man and good actor. That is Idris (laughs)! And he’s very handsome. He’s a movie star!
What does Kate bring to the role?
She was very professional in terms of digging into her character, into the situation of her character, into her development. Kate prepared herself in every possible way, mentally but also intellectually. She would discuss every sentence, every move, every detail of clothing.
What was it like working with Kate and Idris?
They were great. They challenged each other. There is great chemistry but it was almost like a competition between them, which was the best thing for the movie. That is what a good actor does to make the other actor better. They are intelligent; they both have a lot of experience, so all that elevates the scenes. Working with them challenged me because they have both worked with some of the world’s top directors.
What dangers do the characters face on this journey?
The biggest danger is that it’s so cold you could die from hypothermia. I don’t think one person alone could survive actually, because two people create warmth. The second danger is that if you slip on the cliff, you will die. The third is deep snow, because you don’t see it so you think you’re walking on normal snow and you can fall into the ground. And there is wildlife… hungry mountain lions!
How challenging was it filming in difficult conditions?
It is always difficult when it’s cold. It was freezing all the time, so cold you couldn’t have bare hands for more than ten seconds. We shot in Canada, between Alberta and British Columbia in the mountains, with real snow. There is almost zero green screen in the film.
What were the other major challenges?
There are just two characters and it is a huge challenge between me and the actors to elevate every scene, to create tension. It’s not easy, but it’s fun to do when you have two great actors like Idris and Kate.
The film is visually extraordinary, how did you evoke the beauty of the environment and the sense of isolation?
I find it interesting when there are contradictory elements that are not supposed to work together, but you make them work together. Nature is beautiful but in the situation they are facing in the film, it is dangerous too. So how do you combine danger with beauty? It’s fun to create what I call a third dimension, a depth that combines beauty with danger. There is a tension to the beauty.
It’s an exciting story, but it seems like there is also an interesting metaphor for life?
Audiences will have their own interpretations, but for me this movie is about embracing the human spirit under extreme circumstances, how you can still find humor, a joke, inside a painful situation, how you can find comfort when you think you are dying. The film is about how fear of death limits your life. If you are scared, you do nothing. When you lose that fear, you live in a different way because you are not the centre of the world. Humanity is very complex, but what I want to say is that the path to becoming selfless is when you discover the good within you. Sometimes that journey needs to be made under extreme circumstances. I think that is because civilisation makes us lazy, because it is so comfortable. There is a lot of noise and distraction. The journey of survival allows you to dig deep into yourself and discover the good things in you.
What do you think audiences around the world have to look forward to with this film?
It’s a story of the determination to survive and the bond that grows between these two strangers in the middle of the wilderness with zero distraction and no Internet, no telephones ringing, no cars. It’s a very exciting movie: The scenery, two wonderful actors, Kate and Idris. I hope that everyone will be touched and feel emotionally invested in the characters. It is a universal story.
The film releases in SA on Friday, 20 October.