Critique of Eight Mountains: An Intimate Epic of Alpine Friendship


Mountains do not form in an instant. Tectonic plates can warp like the crumpled hoods of crashing cars, but it’s a collision that takes thousands of millennia to occur and, on a human scale, seems infinitely slow. An inch here, a millimeter there, even the largest ranges have been built in stages; rocky peaks rising pebble by pebble. This is just one of the ways the vast, dizzying landscapes of northwest Italy suit Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch’s “Eight Mountains” so well: the film, too, is a slow buildup and gradual detail that transforms into a spectacular view of the crests and valleys, spiers and valleys of a lifelong friendship.

Based on the award-winning Italian bestseller “Le Otto Montagne” by Paolo Cognetti, the film is romantic in the best sense of the word. It immerses you in the world of its characters – both human and Alpine – on that deep and resounding level that only literature can usually access. But it lives and breathes in beautifully cinematic terms, each of Ruben Impens’ superb academic report pictures being worth a thousand words. Although this classic bildungsroman may have been muffled and hidden in the transition from page to screen, in terms of scale, sweep and emotion, little seems to have been lost in translation.

The storytelling — so often a crutch that book-to-movie adaptations rely on too much — is spared. Back in town after an endless childhood summer, Pietro (Luca Marinelli) remembers how his “legs forgot their nettle stings”; later he notes that his mother was “accustomed to living among silent men”. This verbal language shares with the visual language a simple and direct poetry. It also sets the elegiac tone, with its sad past, and Swedish singer-songwriter Daniel Norgren’s beautiful bluesy folk songs that provide the film’s only soundtrack, hinting from the start that for some reason this story is already over, and is told on the other side.

It’s the story of a friendship that begins one summer in the mid-1980s, when city kid Pietro (played as a child by Lupo Barbiero) comes with his mother on vacation to Grana, a small, declining hamlet nestled under crushing snows. the immensity of the neighboring Alps. He meets Bruno (Cristiano Sassella), the self-proclaimed ‘last kid in the village’, and through herding cows and climbing rocks and splashing in crystal clear mountain lakes, the two 11-year-olds quickly bond, despite radical differences in background. and temperament. It’s not just Pietro, calm and polite, who becomes fiercely attached to the sturdy and capable Bruno. Once Pietro’s factory manager father (Filippo Timi) arrives to indulge his passion for mountaineering, the boy’s parents are also interested in Bruno, so much so that they offer to take him back to Turin with them. for school.

Pietro is indignant that his country companion becomes city-dweller and bourgeois, like him: “You’re going to ruin him!” he shouts. Bruno, however, is tempted to see what the world is like outside his rustic universe. But fate has other plans, and when Pietro (now Marinelli) and Bruno (now Alessandro Borghi) reconnect years later, Bruno has devoted himself entirely to life on the mountain. “Only you city dwellers call it ‘nature’,” he scoffs, observing the tendency of Pietro’s friends to romanticize the landscape in abstraction. For a time, his practical grounding among stones, paths, and trees becomes a stabilizing influence on his more restless, rootless friend. But then Pietro ventures further afield, eventually finding a new home in a not exactly flat Nepal, while Bruno’s life contracts around him and the mountain he can’t leave. Their fortunes are slowly reversed.

Mountains lend themselves to easy metaphors. But the symmetries that Van Groeningen — director of gutting “The Broken Circle Breakdown,” here co-directed with partner and collaborator Vandermeersch — finds in this decades-long sprawl are soft and unforced. A mention of the Tibetan sky burial ritual resonates later; twice, a life-or-death moment is relayed in the prosaic detail of flashing hazard lights on a car stopped at the side of the road. And while it’s true that women – Bruno’s sensible girlfriend (Elisabetta Mazzullo), Pietro’s black-eyed mother (Elena Lietti) – are peripheral at best, it’s surprising how little this rarity matters. given the richness of central male relationships and the unusual degree of heartfelt and single-minded sensitivity with which they are portrayed.

There’s an easy, flinty chemistry between Marinelli and Borghi, which is particularly interesting given that each is somewhat counterintuitive in a role for which the other might seem a more obvious choice. Indeed, the young actors’ physical resemblance to their adult opposites suggests that the casting may have been the other way around at one point. If so, the change is inspired, given the wonderful subtlety Marinelli brings to the role of Pietro, so different from his catchy turn in “Martin Eden.” Here he is the moving, uncertain and winding yin of Borghi’s compact and practical yang. Their moments of connection are poignant in their understatement, such as when adult Bruno calls adult Pietro by his childhood nickname for the first time, through the roof slates of the shack they build as a chimerical remembrance of the latter’s father.

In the Grana dialect, says Bruno, the expression “it seems long” communicates a feeling of sadness. “The Eight Mountains”, at almost two and a half hours, is long and often sad. But it’s also joyful and grateful and wise, with an emotional weight rising in the middle, after the jagged slope of Bruno and Pietro’s youth, culminating in their reunion and then, with many looking back, embarking on a more languorous and reflective life. pace on the long journey home. Majestic and serene from afar, but up close torn apart by the cracks and follies of a friendship that costs the two men so much but gives them even more, the film is also a mountain.


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