Adam Ondra: Pushing the Limit (2022)

Adam Ondra: Pushing the Limit (2022)

Movie Details

Adam Ondra: Pushing the Limit (2022)
Director: Jan Simanek, Petr Záruba
Cast: Adam Ondra
Movie Type: Documentary/Sport
Release date: 2022
IMDB Rating: 6.6/10
Languages: Czech and English,
Duration: 1h 17m


Adam Ondra: Pushing the Limit (2022)


The first minutes of the documentary portrait of the climber Adam Ondra takes place in complete silence. The camera follows its subject of interest as he scales the rock overhang in silent awe, which adequately sets the tone for the rest of the film. “I think we’re all climbing somewhere,” Ondra muses sternly while looking at the majestic mountain peaks. Sounds a bit corny, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, the documentary by Jan Šimánek and Petr Záruba, who have behind them, among other things, portraits of the artist Jan Jedlička (Landscape Footsteps) or the mountaineer Marek Holeček (Mára zade do nebe), does not try to go deeper.

Filming began about a year before the Olympic Games in Tokyo, where sport climbing was supposed to make its debut. For Adam Ondra, who has repeatedly dominated the European and world championships in previous years, it was not only a new challenge, but essentially a necessity – after all, what would it look like if the best climber failed at the Olympics?

The film also talks about this psychological pressure, but it is not addressed much. The introverted athlete is tight-lipped in his statements to the camera, and the image fails to get below the surface. “The film shows Adam as he is. He doesn’t talk much, and he climbs a lot,” said Ondra’s wife Iva, herself a former national champion in difficulty climbing, after a private screening.

In the end, she is the main star of the film, providing much-needed emotions and the opportunity to get under the skin of the protagonists. From Ivy’s talk, it is clear that the emphasis on difficulty characterizes not only her climbing specialization but also the relational one; as the partner and later wife of a highly successful athlete, she had to put her career (and passion) on the back burner. In addition, she does not enjoy media attention, while Ondra, as an (apparently) phlegmatic introvert, does not mind the attention of those around him.

Ondra himself explains that he is more interested in the aesthetics of climbing than in sports achievements – how to climb a real or artificial rock as elegantly and naturally as possible? Šimánk’s camera also shows a fascination with the process of climbing, an unusually large part of the footage passing over Ondra’s toned muscles, overcoming one challenge after another.

However, if you are not one of the ardent fans of climbing and therefore cannot fully appreciate all the very complex creations that Ondra demonstrates on rocks and boulder walls, this ode to physical perfection will become repetitive and boring rather quickly. At the same time, the film does not contain any introduction to climbing practice or grappling, so it is difficult for the eyes of the lay viewer to catch all the nuances offered. This is also why the footage feels much longer than the actual 82 minutes, and the viewer does not have the feeling that he knows Ondra fundamentally better after the end of the film.

Šimánek admitted after the screening of the film at the Jihlava festival that he and Záruba did not want to put Ondra in artificial situations. They did not pressure him into anything, nor did they try to interrogate him at any cost. This is humanly understandable, but the resulting picture doesn’t offer much more than examples of the constant emphasis on exercise, breathing, and meditation techniques.

Compared to the thematically similar, Oscar-winning documentary Free Solo, it lacks both the thrilling way of filming the life-threatening performances of Alex Honnold and the finding of a supporting theme in the protagonist’s unnaturally repressed fear. Unfortunately, Šimánek and Záruba were unable to find a similarly functional key to grasping an introverted character.

Perhaps Ondra’s life is this monotonous, and the question arises as to whether the toll for the career of a top athlete is not too great. Probably not for the protagonist himself – he himself says that he does not know what he would be without climbing. But for someone walking this journey by his side, maybe so.

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