The Eight Mountains – movie review

The Eight Mountains presents a beautifully shot and languidly paced story exploring the friendship between Bruno and Pietro over the course of four decades. “I didn’t expect to find a friend like Bruno in my life. Nor that friendship was a place where you put down roots” says the adult Pietro in the opening moments of the film, and this sets the scene for this epic tale of friendship and self-discovery. Bruno and Pietro first meet as young boys during a summer holiday in 1984 in the remote mountain region of Grana when Pietro and his parents come to the small village for a break and to get away from the city of Turin.

Pietro (Cristiano Sassella) and Bruno (Lupo Barbiero) explore the bucolic countryside and the mountains and the wilderness of the region. Pietro’s father also takes them on mountain climbing expeditions. But tensions arise between the two families when Pietro’s parents offer to sponsor Bruno’s education in the city and this drives a wedge between the two boys. Bruno’s father rejects the offer and Bruno is forced to work on his uncle’s farm. But while Pietro’s family often return to the region for a holiday, Pietro remains behind in Turin.

It is another fifteen years before the two meet again as young men. Following the death of his father Pietro (Luca Marinelli) comes to Grana and reconnects with Bruno (Alessandro Borghi). Pietro learns that his father still went climbing with Bruno during his frequent visits to the area. The two men now bond as they renovate an old rundown mountain cabin that Pietro’s father left for Bruno. The cabin they build becomes a symbol of their enduring friendship. While Bruno still works on his uncle’s farm, Pietro has become a chef. He is also restless and travels to Nepal where he tries to write a book.

The Eight Mountains is based on the 2016 novel written by Paolo Cognetti, and has been beautifully adapted to the screen by husband-and-wife filmmakers Felix von Groenengen and Charlotte Vandermeersch (who previously collaborated on The Broken Circle Breakdown). Visually the film brings the novel to life on the screen and its themes of male friendships, family, complex father/son relationships and the journey to find one’s place in life resonate. The sweeping mountains and wintry landscapes have been evocatively shot by cinematographer Ruben Impens (The Broken Circle Breakdown, etc), and the use of the boxy academy ratio gives the material a more intimate feel than the usual widescreen lensing one would expect. The film was shot on location in the Italian Alps near the border with France, but it was a difficult shoot as the filmmakers had to overcome the harsh weather conditions and the remoteness of the location. The evocative country/folk music score and haunting songs from Daniel Norgren further enrich the material.

Both Marinelli (The Old Guard) and Borghi (The First King) bring depth and empathy to their performances and the shared intimacy of their platonic relationship seems natural and authentic. As the younger version of Pietro and Bruno, both Sassella and Barbiero, in their feature film debuts, are also very good and bring a youthful joy and innocence to their roles.

The gentle pacing for the film’s generous 157-minute running time may seem daunting for many, but if you immerse yourself in the gorgeous imagery and music you will be swept up in the experience.

Greg King

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