Friday, August 11, 2017

Gabriel and the Mountain

A few years ago, a UCLA grad student went missing in Malawi and was found dead near the top of a mountain. This movie is based on the year he spent travelling in several African nations: it starts with his body being found by two workmen.

I don't know anything about what he was like in real life, but he doesn't come across as a completely likeable character in the movie: in fact, I generally found him to be annoying most of the time. It is probably a lot better this way than airbrushing him. Certainly he was a fellow lived by his own rules and objected to restrictions, but he appeared to be an entitled, posh twit on safari in Africa - arguing with his tour guide because he wanted to see mating wildebeests (and to hell with the fact it was a two day detour), constantly feeling ripped off because he was being charged foreigner prices, charging into a group of zebras, climbing a mountain with no gear, no food, not even proper footwear contrary to advice. To be fair, he was kind of honouring the Masai - he was wearing Masai footwear, and believed them to be invincible.
He does, however, look a bit ridiculous in his Masai costume. Gabriel is really caught up in the idea he's not a tourist - so when he  and Cris (his girlfriend) are at a tourist resort having  drink, he resents being treated as a tourist and leaves in a huff. He and Cris had an awkward relationship - they had quite a prolonged argument on a bus about the merits of their respective attitudes to academic life, in which he was quite dismissive of her - then he wanders off to have some weed, nearly missing the bus. 
She seems to have got fed up with him at the end - it is not clear whether, if he had survived, their relationship would have.

But I went to the movie knowing nothing about him, because it was sold as a "richly layered road movie" through Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia and Malawi - places I will probably never visit but wanted to see. From that perspective, I did find it a rewarding experience. There was one point I even warmed to Gabriel - in Malawi, where he hitches a ride with a truck driver, and they struck up a friendship. Gabriel was horrified to learn he'd not been paid for several months (and even then would have only received $40 a month) and shares what looks like the last of his money with him. The most interesting thing is that almost all of the people he met in Africa played themselves in the movie, and were willing to recall Gabriel - even the wildebeest tour guide, who saw Gabriel as an enemy but not as someone who deserved to die.

The only trailer I can find is in French but here's an extract:



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