Film Reviews

Review: ‘4 Years in 10 Minutes’

Hot Docs 2018


4 Years in 10 Minutes
(Serbia, 62 min.)
Dir. Mladen Kovacevic
Programme: World Showcase (North American Premiere)

For many, summiting Mount Everest is synonymous with Achievement with a capital A. It may not pose the technical mountaineering challenges that other mountains do, but its height, its history and its iconography have made it archetypal. The first to reach the top, the first to reach it from its different approaches, the first to reach it from each country, the longest to stay at the top: these are all talked about as heroic achievements.

And Everest is not just a feather in the cap for seasoned climbers. As everybody knows, misguided amateurs often attempt it, and often die doing so, their bodies left on the mountain as morbid warnings to future climbers. Maybe an avalanche gets them, or a fall, or just altitude sickness. All in the vain attempt to achieve “the ultimate” achievement.

4 Years in 10 Minutes is about all of that—but obliquely. Prima facie, it’s about just one climb, that of Dragan Jacimovic, the first Serbian to reach the top, in May, 2000. It’s compiled from footage shot by himself and others on his expedition, with text taken from his diary often superimposed on freeze-frames. Jacimovic’s text, in concert with footage of his heavily equipped (and commercially branded) expedition against the awe-inspiring Himalayan scenery, has some of the cynical lyricism of classic Herzog, reflecting on the banality and futility of his quest.

When Jacimovic does reach the top—sans oxygen tank, which has crapped out within sight of the summit—the scene is pretty spectacular, in a couple senses. There’s a bit of Wanderer above the Sea of Fog about it, of course—how could there not be—but the sense of transcendence fails to take hold as Jacimovic struggles to breathe, struggles with his camera, struggles to pull out flag after flag to show the camera and finally, most poignantly, voices his struggle to feel the way he thinks he’s supposed to feel, wishing there were somebody else with him to share the moment. Four years of work, all for ten minutes at the top.

As it transpires, Jacimovic actually spent 36 minutes at the top—or at least that’s what he tells the guide when he comes back down. Is it just bravado, or did he actually spend all that time up there, trying to reach that point of transcendence that just never came? The ultimate achievement turns out to be the ultimate experience of emptiness, the ultimate anticlimax. Jacimovic’s nationalism—wasting precious minutes at the summit showing off various Serbian and Yugoslavian flags—rings especially hollow, particularly as he had forbidden anybody to give him news of the goings-on back home, most of which, he must have realized, would have pertained to the ongoing disintegration of that very home.

The film is quite ingeniously assembled, focusing primarily on the landscape at the beginning and end while centring Jacimovic at the climax, playing down the sense of danger—no use building suspense when the very existence of the footage gives the game away—in favour of quotidian clumsiness and the climbers’ heavy reliance on technology to accomplish this basically pointless, self-imposed task.

4 Tears in 10 Minutes screens:
-Wed, May 2 at 9:00 PM at TIFF Lightbox
-Thurs, May 3 at 12:30 PM at Scotiabank

Hot Docs runs April 26 to May 6. Please visit hotdocs.ca for more info.

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