Cannes Hidden Gem: 'The Climb' Explores a "Sort of Love Story About Friendship"

Courtesy of Cannes
Michael Covino (right) and Kyle Marvin co-wrote the screenplay and play best friends on a cycling getaway gone wrong in 'The Climb.'

Michael Covino’s film expands his own short film into a feature about a weekend cycling trip that gets complicated when a man reveals he slept with his buddy’s ex.

A man is cycling on holiday with his best friend when, in the middle of a particularly steep hill climb, the BFF admits that he’s been seeing the ex the man is still pining for. Cue awkwardness, anger and his sudden urge to make a lunge over the handlebars and clobber said friend.

That exact experience may not have happened to Michael Covino (although he does admit to having had a "close friend" sleep with an ex-girlfriend), but the scenario did form the basis of his eight-minute short film, The Climb. Shot in one continuous take, the Sundance 2018 tragicomedy sees the filmmaker direct himself as Mike, who drops the ultimate bombshell on his pal Kyle (Kyle Marvin, also co-producer) while they’re both sweating into their saddles on a sharp ascent, somewhat ruining the otherwise serene setting.

Having previously produced features together, the duo took The Climb to Park City last year knowing that the festival offered something of a "paved path" for shorts becoming full-length films.

"We just said if we can come up with an idea that is more exciting than anything else we’re working on, and happens to live in the world of this film, then maybe we’ll go get it made," says Covino. "We were lucky that something sparked, and it was the kind of movie we’ve always wanted to make but didn’t feel forced."

The feature — also called The Climb and bowing in Un Certain Regard on May 17 — uses the fateful bike ride (actually shot on a mountain about 35 minutes from the Croisette) as a jumping-off point before becoming what Covino describes as a "sort of love story about friendship," looking at the relationships that many people are stuck with, for better or worse. "You can’t really describe it to anyone else, but for some reason you can never get rid of that person," he says. “You’ll always care about them and put up with things you wouldn’t otherwise."

The director and Marvin reprise their roles in the feature, which they tried to keep aesthetically similar to the short. But there’s one key difference that only eagled-eyed bike fans might be able to spot. Whereas Covino admits to being an avid cyclist (and the film was "absolutely" a good opportunity for a biking vacation), Marvin wasn’t, at least while filming the short.

"I think it was the third time Kyle had been on a bike since childhood," he laughs, adding that he had to give him a pump-up speech to keep him going ("If you don’t make it to the top of the hill, the short can’t end!”). By the time of the feature, however, Marvin had trained, becoming something of cycling enthusiast. Says Covino, "He had to put on a bit more acting to pretend like he was out of shape."

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's May 14 daily issue from the Cannes Film Festival.