Directed by Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch, THE EIGHT MOUNTAINS provokes perhaps an unusual amount of introspection in the viewer, during and after the film. Such is our investment in this portrayal of the lives of two dedicated friends who meet as boys in the Italian Alps that we are not only happy to fill in the elisions between episodes but to invent alternate scenes and outcomes, with fewer wrong turns and greater understanding between the principals.
Bruno (Cristiano Sassella) is the only child left in the depopulated village in the Aosta Valley where Pietro (Lupo Barbiero) and his parents, urbanites from Turin, have taken up residence in a summer rental. Returning every year, the boys grow closer and closer until Bruno turns thirteen and Pietro’s parents offer to bring him down to Turin to attend school. Bruno seems more than willing to get away from the mountains but Pietro panics, telling his mother that city life would ruin his friend. In any event, Bruno’s father—an itinerant worker on construction sites—seems offended by the suggestion and instead takes Bruno away to learn his trade as a builder. And, except for a brief adolescent encounter, the boys are separated for nearly twenty years.
During this time, Pietro (played as an adult by Luca Marinelli) and his father Giovanni (Filippo Timi)—sharing varying degrees of mutual disapproval—have grown apart. The film takes its title from the Buddhist cosmology defining the world as one central mountain surrounded by eight additional mountains and eight oceans, and, indeed, Pietro—a melancholic drifter throughout his twenties—searches far and wide for a place to drop anchor, eventually finding a measure of happiness in Nepal. After Giovanni’s premature death, Pietro discovers that his father had often returned to the mountains to go hiking, showing the adult Bruno (Alessandro Borghi) a dream property on a slope occupied by a large old house, now in ruins. It is here that the childhood friends restore their bond, rebuilding the house to which they will return for years to come.
Although this haunting film, based on the novel by Paolo Cognetti, has a reputation for broad, scenic vistas, the directors—inspired by the recent films of Paweł Pawlikowski—shot THE EIGHT MOUNTAINS in the tight 1:33-to-1 Academy ratio. Occasionally narrated by Pietro-Marinelli’s voiceover, an extensive selection of recordings by singer-songwriter Daniel Norgren provides an additional emotional perspective, gently reflecting the film’s themes of memory, loss, regret, and forgiveness.
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THE EIGHT MOUNTAINS
Written and directed by Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch
Now streaming on the Criterion Channel
Played May 2023
11272 Santa Monica Boulevard, West Los Angeles
Monica Film Center
1332 2nd Street, Santa Monica
207 North Maryland Avenue, Glendale
Angelika Film Center
18 West Houston Street, New York City
*Walt Whitman, first three lines of the “Are You the New Person Drawn Toward Me?” section of “Calamus,” in Leaves of Grass (1867).
Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch, The Eight Mountains / Le otto montagne (2022), from top: Alessandro Borghi (left) and Luca Marinelli; Cristiano Sassella (left) and Lupo Barbiero; Filippo Timi (left), Sassella, and Barbiero; Borghi; Borghi and Marinelli; Borghi, Marinelli, and Elisabetta Mazzullo; Borghi, Mazzullo, and Marinelli; Borghi and Marinelli.
Images courtesy and © Sideshow and Janus Films.