Published Nov 09, 2020Every year at the Cannes Film Festival, Un Certain Regard's Jury Coup de Coeur prize is awarded to films from young, innovative creators. In 2019, Michael Angelo Covino submitted his feature length directorial debut, The Climb (based on a 2018 short of the same name), which took home the prize.
The dramedy follows the friendship of Mike and Kyle (played by the film's co-writers, Covino and Kyle Marvin) as it develops and changes over a number of years. Broken into chapters, the film begins with "1. (I'm Sorry)," where Mike confesses to Kyle that he's been sleeping with his fiancée, as they're on a literal climb, bobbing and weaving their bikes up a steep mountain road. From there, the film progresses weeks, months, and years at a time; each chapter checks in on Mike and Kyle as they attend family holiday parties, bachelor parties, weddings and funerals. The two friends navigate love, heartbreak, forgiveness and acceptance as they deal with the highs and lows that come with aging.
Covino and Marvin effectively apply a unique approach to storytelling over a number of years, which highlights the fluidity of the friendship they seek out to examine. Mike and Kyle maintain the familiarity and cadence they've had with each other since high school, but they undoubtedly become different people; the relationship remains crucial for both because it provides levity and context as they grapple to understand life's changes that lead to stress, pain, depression and anxiety. The decisions they make, in addition to factors outside of their control, impact the dynamics of the friendship as time moves forward. Trust is built, then broken. Wounds are ripped open, then mended. The dynamics are never the same and constantly changing.
In addition to the unique story structure, Covino's use of long, uninterrupted shots enhances how the viewer understands Mike and Kyle's connection. The camera follows the two up mountains, through houses, down roads, mirroring all the twists and turns they have endured together. Covino zooms in and out on his subjects as they alternate between drifting closer and further apart. The camera is almost always moving; sometimes slowly, sometimes quickly — much like the way Mike and Kyle find constantly find themselves growing and changing as both individuals and friends.
The Climb peppers in dark humour throughout the film, providing a sense of relief in almost every uncomfortable situation. Covino and Marvin's script juxtaposes the severity of some of the film's reveals. Even during devastating, life-altering moments, a comfort level remains constant between Mike and Kyle, which softens these blows. That comfort level highlights a co-dependency that, while seemingly toxic at face value, actually serves to benefit the lives of both individuals. However flawed they are, Mike and Kyle can accept those flaws because they have each other to lean on whenever they take a mis-step or have to deal with one of life's many challenges.
The Climb lives up to its title and makes for an engaging watch. Throughout all the ups and downs, the one thing grounding Mike and Kyle is their friendship, despite its imperfections. They both struggle to make sense of who they were, who they are and who they may become in the future. Covino's film suggests the characters know life is an uphill battle, filled with hurdles and roadblocks. But, just like the opening chapter, they're making the climb together, making the climb itself less daunting. (Sony Pictures Classic)