The Climb

2019 Cannes Festival Winnner – Jury Coup de Coeur (Un Certain Regard)

In Michael Angelo Covino’s clever, open-souled debut feature, a long-term friendship between two average guys is given the dramatic shape and structure of a tempestuous love story, rich in conflicts, faultlines and intense feeling that fights any other relationship standing in its way.

The Climb, beautifully written and performed by Covino and his real-life BFF, Kyle Marvin, has an elegant seven-chapter structure which divides the events of a decade into piquant vignettes  – any one of which could stand independently as a window into the characters’ pained, inseparable relationship.

The action begins in France, introducing athletic alpha type Mike (Covino) and his gentle, schlubby best friend Kyle (Marvin) on a cycling vacation ahead of Kyle’s imminent wedding to Ava – the perfect moment, in Mike’s view, to admit that he and Ava have slept together.

The immediate, aggrieved fallout of this confession plays out in a fluid single take on the road, with Kyle’s anger and admonishment stymied by the exhaustion of an uphill bike trudge. Yet The Climb soon reveals more complex tonal strings to its bow. The next time we encounter the guys, a marriage has taken place and a funeral is in process, though the filmmakers make their audience wait to find out who exactly is wed or dead.

Every one of the film’s segments begins with some such instance of deft narrative wrongfooting, making viewers reorient themselves each time the narrative takes a chronological leap. Puzzling out who has done what to whom, and over what period of time, is part of the fun, but also poignantly evokes the awkward process of reintroduction and renegotiation that happens every time once-close friends drift and collide once more.

“I just want someone who wants to be with me,” Kyle says at one point – not knowing, or choosing not to know, that his awful, exasperating, unfaithful best friend is that someone, for better or worse.

– Guy Lodge, Variety

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