Film Review: Mountain Man

mountain man

We recently watched the documentary Mountain Man, directed by Arun Bhattarai. Set to compete in the 2025 Oscars, making it the first Bhutanese documentary to do so. Our protagonist, Phuntsho, is the only person in Bhutan authorized to climb these mountains, making the title quite fitting. Mountains in Bhutan are considered sacred. Bhutanese believe deities reside in these mountains. 

The first scene is inside a classroom. The topic of discussion is farming and climate change. The teacher says that farm work was done manually in the past, “nowadays, one person alone can do a huge amount of farmwork using machines.” She adds that just because Bhutan is a carbon-negative country doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be concerned about climate change. She says humans fuel climate change as the camera is on Yangchen, Phuntsho’s daughter and the narrator. When this happens, we wonder what is going through her mind. She believes and worries her dad climbing the mountains contributes to climate change. 

In the movie, the Snow Lion represents the deity who resides in these mountains. The snow lion, invisible in real life and the movie, is only brought up in Yangchen’s narration. If the lion is disturbed, there will be consequences, such as floods, one of the reasons why Yangchen’s father, Phuntsho, was tasked with the job. In 1994, Bhutan experienced one of its worst climate disasters when a lake burst killing livestock and damaging property. Even today, this is an ongoing concern and that is why efforts have been put in place to mitigate these issues. 

After the first scene, we get a sneak peek into the home of our “actors.” As Phuntsho quickly leaves for the mountains he vows to keep in touch with Yangchen. He video calls her, showing his campsite, and introduces her to blue goats, which he is equally thrilled to be seeing. One thing that struck us is how these mountains lose all their charm, even if for only a short time, given they are nothing like what we might have imagined them to be: soft, lush, and kind. Instead, they are rocky, even foreign, and beyond recognizable. However, this makes it all the more interesting, demanding our full attention.

Something very noticeable is when Yangchen speaks in a very low voice when she says: “But whenever father touches the sacred lakes, people say that he will anger the Snow Lion. He will create floods and bad harvests. May the Snow Lion protect my father, just like he protects the mountains.” 

For us, Mountain Man is about a daughter who waits for her father to return. It is about a father who cares deeply about his family, and about his job. Come rain or shine, Phuntsho is up in the mountains, even when horses carrying loads cannot make it to the campsite. It is about knowing that mystery doesn’t always mean beauty, but something darker. Maybe this is why we have our “deities” to protect, care, and guide us. 

Watch Mountain Man by Arun Bhattarai

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Picture: The Guardian

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