Although the 2019 Cannes Film Festival hosted some of the world greatest directors and actors, the festival is also home to the Un Certain Regard category, which focuses on independent, non-traditional filmmaking. In this year’s selection, one of the festival’s best films went almost completely unnoticed by the festival’s audiences. Michael Angelo Covino’s feature-length directorial debut The Climb, which won the Un Certain Regard Coup de Coeur jury prize award, builds off of the success of his short film of the same name. The film follows the complex relationship between Mike and Kyle through many different milestones in each of their lives.
Mike, played by writer-director-actor Covino, and Kyle, played by writer-actor Kyle Marvin, both explore the complicated world of male friendship, through their most toxic moments to their moments of genuine care for each other. The film, shot mostly in long, beautiful one-take shots, is a combination of vignette-type moments from each of their lives as they explore their relationships with girlfriends, or wives, and their families.
The “climb” refers to the first scene of the film, as the two friends are biking up a steep hill their conversation quickly turns sour as Mike reveals a secret that will greatly affect the relationship between Kyle and his girlfriend. This first scene is a near copy of Covino’s 2018 short film, and brilliantly sets up the complicated relationship between lifelong friends. Giving the nature of male relationships in our society the focus remains in the attempt to find the blurry border between genuine feelings of love for the counterpart while attempting to remain true to the socially mandated rules of masculinity and male relationships.
Covino expertly and precisely depicts this masculine bond, which is likely due to the fact that he and Marvin play characters based upon themselves and their personal relationship. The two are clearly exploring the familiar territory and, while it is unclear which scenes are pulled from their experiences and which are a carefully constructed fabrication of truth and fiction, the final product flows as one of the most authentic depictions of the male bond. Covino and Marvin’s pitch-black, comedic narrative dissects some of the most taboo aspects of male friendship and is especially poignant in the depiction of the relationship between the two and each of their female significant others. As our culture limits the boundaries of male friendship, often times the romantic relationship will receive priority over the longer, deeper relationship between the male friends. This subject is rarely brought up in modern gender discourse within a film, and Covino expertly shows that the relationship between the three parties is often abrasive and misunderstood.
Now, as much of the realistic relationship between the two friends is the heartbeat of the film, Zach Kuperstein’s cinematography takes the realism of the film higher than the excellent script ever could. With the use of a camera dolly, most of the film consists of beautifully smooth long one-take, tracking, and panning shots that capture the dialogue between Kyle and Mike in a grounded, authentic approach. Kuperstein’s cinematography was by far the most impressive of the festival, and, while the novelty of “one-take” films may have lost its initial interest due to many incredible one-take scenes throughout international cinema, the camera usage cements Kurperstei’s work amongst the legends of film.
The Climb is an impressive feature-length debut for Covino that proves he has a bright future ahead of himself. Covino’s unique style of blending down-to-earth, honest presentation of male friendship with black comedy is exciting — and should allow him to evolve as a filmmaker — and spread his cinematic influence across the world.