The Eight Mountains (2022) (Le Otto Montagne)

Felix Van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch’s The Eight Mountains, which they adapted from Paolo Cognetti’s novel Le Otto Montagne, tells the story of the friendship of Pietro and Bruno from boys to men in their 30s from the perspective of Pietro.

Reflecting at Altitude

by Chris Drew

The Eight Mountains

CAUTION: Here be spoilers

Summer 1984, eleven-year-olds Pietro and Bruno meet in an Italian alpine village forming a deep bond connecting them indefinitely to each other and to the mountains.

Young Pietro (Lupo Barbiero) and his parents move from Turin to a remote village in the Alps for the summer and Pietro encounters Bruno (Cristiano Sassella), the last child living in the village with his uncle and aunt on their farm.

The connection between to two is almost immediate as they run through fields, climb, explore, swim in the lake and play in the grass in beautiful scenes of childish joy.

Pietro’s father (Filippo Timi, The American) takes Pietro and Bruno on a mountain hike up the to the glacier which, as adult Pietro reflects in voiceover, becomes a very meaningful memory of the three of them together.

Bruno is abruptly taken away by his father after Pietro’s parents suggest that Bruno moves to Turin with them for his education. Losing his friend causes a rift between Pietro and his father which is painfully portrayed in the short, but important, adolescent section. Teenage Pietro (Andrea Palma) viciously tells his father “I never want to be like you.”

Bruno is only seen once as a teenager (played by Francesco Palombelli) in a heart-breaking scene where Pietro spots Bruno briefly and they share a momentary nod and wave. We are told they do not see each other for 15 years.

They are reunited as men, each complimenting the other’s beard in a nice moment, following the death of Pietro’s father. During a moving phone call with his mother (Elena Lietto, Three Floors), Pietro (Luca Marinelli, The Old Guard) learns that, while he has been largely estranged, Bruno (Alessandro Borghi, The Hanging Sun) has stayed in close contact with his parents.

Pietro is surprised to find that his father had bought a ruined house high in the mountains to renovate, his mountain dream. Pietro and Bruno start the renovation once the snow melts and the four-month project acts as a metaphor for their friendship being rebuilt.

While Bruno stays working on the land, Pietro becomes a chef in Turin and on one visit brings his Turin friends to the mountain. He introduces Lara (Elisabetta Mazzullo, Let Me Buy You a Drink) to Bruno and soon she is living and working with the mountains with Bruno, and they welcome a daughter.

Pietro visits Nepal and finds himself drawn to the land and the people while rediscovering his passion for writing. Bruno remains on the mountain, refusing to leave even when living off the land becomes impossible for the family.

Pietro reflects constantly on both his relationship with Bruno and the memory of his father who he learns more about through the journal entries he left on his mountain walks.

As the adult Pietro, Marinelli is affecting but is largely silent and reactionary with most of the emotional heavy lifting coming via his frequent voiceover, which is wistful with regret.

Borghi, as Bruno, is brooding with wild eyes bringing more than a fitting touch of Brontë’s Heathcliff to a character so connected to the land. The performances of both child actors early in the film are excellent.

Where Groeningen and Vandermeersch’s film really excels is the spectacular cinematography which beautifully captures the sweeping majesty of the Italian mountains and valleys: you can almost feel the alpine air in your lungs.

With a lengthy runtime The Eight Mountains certainly meanders, largely driven by character, mood and feeling rather than plot. There are moments where perhaps the inclusion of an element of incident or tension could perhaps invigorate the story.

However, it is affective as a film about the powers of friendship and familial bonds, and how being at one with nature can help you find yourself and understand others.

Le Otto Montagne (The Eight Mountains) premiered in Competition at the Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Jury Prize, and is released on 12 May 2023 in the UK.


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