There is joy and melancholy and a lyrical connection with nature in The Eight Mountains, the reverential adaptation by Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch of the best-selling 2016 novel by Paolo Cognetti, winner of the prestigious Italian Premio Strega. What’s missing is conflict, plus a narrative dynamic that completely frees the story from the page. While Luca Marinelli and Alessandro Borghi bring depth to the protagonists who met as boys in a small mountain village that holds them all their lives, the filmmakers’ overreliance on constraining voice-over passages is not just one of the ways the drama remains frustratingly literary.
Belgian screenwriter and director van Groeningen – best known for his 2012 bluegrass-infused drama of love and heartbreak, The breaking of the broken circleand his English debut, Timothée Chalamet’s addiction film Handsome boy — here shares the reins with her actress partner, Vandermeersch. Clearly, something spoke to them in Cognetti’s novel about male friendship, generational friction, the building of lives, and the power of landscape to shape personal evolution. They even learned Italian in order to better immerse themselves in the project.
The Eight Mountains
Poignant but too slender for its epic length.
But by turning a relatively thin novel into a 2.5-hour contemplative drama, The Eight Mountains is a film that seems to be continually moving towards cathartic moments that turn out to be evanescent, soaring to heights it rarely reaches, if you will. It’s a pleasant enough watch – well-acted and with a gentle pacing tuned to the main characters’ search paths as they drift in and out of each other’s lives for 30 years – although ultimately, it lacks weight.
Intimately shot by Ruben Impens in 4:3 format, the film begins with young Pietro (Lupo Barbiero), an only child about to turn 12, on vacation with his family from Turin in the summer of 1984 in a village rustic from the Italian Alps. He meets a boy of the same age, Bruno (Cristiano Sassella), who identifies himself as “the last child in the village”, whose population has shrunk from 183 to just 14 inhabitants. A road built to bring people there has had the opposite effect.
Despite the differences between the city-dwelling son of a factory engineer and schoolteacher and the rough herdsman, whose father is constantly away working on construction sites abroad, the barriers between them dissolve instantly. For the solo Pietro, it’s a taste of freedom that almost seems to have been imagined once back in Turin.
But when he and his family return the following summer, Pietro and Bruno instantly fall back into their old friendship. The boys go on a hike with Pietro’s father, Giovanni (Filippo Timi), attempting to scale a glacier, and Bruno is impressed with how Giovanni shares his knowledge, unlike his own taciturn father. Pietro’s mother (Elena Lietti) also helps Bruno with his school difficulties. But when they offer to take him back to Turin and put him through high school, Bruno’s invisible father reacts angrily, taking the boy away to learn construction work.
The two friends have not had contact for 15 years, and Pietro becomes sullen and distant with his father, hurting him by accusing him of wasting his life. It is only after Giovanni’s death that he returns to the village (played in his thirties by Marinelli), discovering that his legacy includes a plot of land high up in the mountains with the ruins of a stone hut, that Bruno (Borghi) promised to rebuild.
This summer project, with Bruno bringing his construction know-how and Pietro providing labour, strengthens their bond. But it also opens Pietro’s eyes to the experiences he sacrificed by rejecting his father, who maintained contact with Bruno. In a touching thread, Pietro revisits a cairn on a mountain path where climbers sign a book nestled in the stones. He reads his father’s words of pride and happiness on their first hike there, and then the later messages when Giovanni returned with Bruno years later.
The divergent paths of the two friends keep separating them: Bruno takes over his uncle’s mountain pasture, raises cattle and makes cheese using traditional artisanal methods; he also meets a woman, Lara (Elisabetta Mazzullo), with whom he has a daughter. Pietro becomes a writer and goes on a trip to Nepal, climbing other mountains and eventually forming a romantic relationship with Asmi (Surakshya Panta), a teacher like his mother.
But Bruno’s financial troubles and the breakdown of his relationship with Lara bring Pietro back to try to help his friend, who blames himself for believing that a simple montanaro could run a business. Borghi is quite moving in these scenes, making Bruno bearish, angry and broken, and Marinelli (who caught attention in 2019 Martin Eden) expresses helplessness at being able to offer only temporary ointments.
There are many moving moments in the description of an enduring friendship, nurtured by nature and capable of enduring long separations but inevitably insufficient to mend all of life’s difficulties. But van Groeningen and Vandermeersch tend to tuck some of the story’s most dramatic twists into the margins, making the film oddly underpowered, even as it deals with the pain of loss.
Use of Swedish singer-songwriter Daniel Norgren’s ambient score is effective, though the frequent neo-folky vocal tracks often feel padded to provide an emotional texture that should be more solidly integrated. to storytelling.
In his reflections on the love between men whose mutual understanding and place in the world are reinforced by natural settings, The Eight Mountains can’t help but remember Kelly Reichardt old joy and first cow. The new film has many admirable qualities, among them the serene beauty of the scenery, but it needs more than that to help it stand up to such comparisons.