SNOW PA­TROL

Di­rec­tor Hany Abu-as­sad does things the hard way in The Moun­tain Be­tween Us

Empire (Australasia) - - Preview - WORDS OLLY RICHARDS

HAV­ING A STORY with just two char­ac­ters should make a di­rec­tor’s job easy. No ex­tras; fewer an­gles to shoot; very short queues for the cater­ing truck. But Hany Abu-as­sad, di­rec­tor of The Moun­tain Be­tween Us, de­cided to put the ki­bosh on an easy life. How? By film­ing his tiny en­sem­ble piece in the freez­ing con­di­tions of Al­berta, on Canada’s snowy peaks.

Based on the novel of the same name by Amer­i­can writer Charles Martin, this is the saga of two strangers, a doc­tor, Ben Bass (Idris Elba), and Alex Martin, a soon-to-be-mar­ried pho­to­jour­nal­ist (Kate Winslet), char­ter­ing a plane home af­ter their com­mer­cial flight is can­celled. Nei­ther can af­ford to wait a day. De­lays be­come the least of their wor­ries when their plane crashes in the moun­tains, killing the pi­lot and leav­ing two peo­ple who met mere hours ago re­ly­ing on each other to stay alive. It’s a bit like Alive meets Home­ward Bound, but with less can­ni­bal­ism and just the one dog (more on him later).

“I don’t like to make things easy,” laughs Abu-as­sad, who has been Os­car-nom­i­nated twice for Best For­eign Lan­guage Film, for Par­adise Now (2005) and Omar (2013). “I never shoot my films any­where com­fort­able,” he says, “be­cause I make films about peo­ple in dif­fi­cult cir­cum­stances.” The di­rec­tor shared his tiny cast’s hard­ships. “There was very lit­tle oxy­gen up there and we’d get home at the end of ev­ery day feel­ing like we’d been beaten up. Re­ally.”

Even more daunt­ing than the sub-zero tem­per­a­tures was the chal­lenge of keep­ing a film with just two char­ac­ters cin­e­matic. “It’s very dif­fer­ent in a book, where you can use de­scrip­tion and the char­ac­ters’ in­ner voices,” says Abu-as­sad. “Con­flict is what keeps the story in­ter­est­ing and try­ing to cre­ate that with two char­ac­ters is some­thing we had to do a lot of work on.”

Part of the so­lu­tion came from cast­ing Elba and Winslet — “both are ac­tors who are au­to­mat­i­cally in­trigu­ing”; part came from ek­ing out se­crets about the pair as the film pro­gresses; and part came from adding an­other cast mem­ber, whom the leads hap­pen upon: a dog named Ri­ley.

“That dog made my life so hard!” says Abu-as­sad. “The dog is cold! The dog is tired! But he gives the movie a great feel. He’s the comic re­lief, which a movie this tense needs. You need to re­lease the ten­sion some­times in order to build it up again, and that’s what the dog does.”

When ev­ery­thing else is frozen, you can rely on a dog to warm the heart.

THE MOUN­TAIN BE­TWEEN US IS IN CIN­E­MAS FROM 12 OC­TO­BER

Alex Martin (Kate Winslet) and Dr Ben Bass (Idris Elba) get the drift. Be­low: Ice-cold Alex?

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