The Eight Mountains is a beautiful example of how it is okay for men to be open and honest with each other, and express their emotions.
It’s interesting how the friendships made over the summer can end up staying in our lives far after the season ends. Sometimes it ends up being easier to be vulnerable with someone new just because we think it’ll all lead to a fleeting friendship. But as seen in Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch’s “The Eight Mountains,” that kind of bond might just end up bringing a whole new meaning to life, ambitions and what it means to truly be a friend.
Adapted from the novel by Paolo Cognetti, the directors’ 2 ½ hour-long epic is full of joyful moments from childhood and some of the loneliest, darkest points in adult life. Despite its lengthy runtime, “The Eight Mountains” is a touching story of male friendship, something we so rarely get to see depicted in drama, that is anchored by two stellar lead performances and amplified by its stunning Italian Alpine scenery.
The film begins with young Pietro (Lupo Barbiero), a city boy, on summer vacation with his mother (Elena Lietti) in the tiny mountain village of Grana. What was once a “bustling” city with over a hundred residents is down to just a couple handful, including the self-described “last child in the village,” Bruno (Cristiano Sassella). Their lives couldn’t be any different – Pietro attending school in Turin, Burno milking cows and hiking along the snow-capped mountains – but they find an intense bond that grows stronger each day.
When the family returns the following summer, the boys fall back into their old ways, and Pietro’s father Giovanni (Filippo Timi) also takes interest in the young mountaineer, especially when the three attempt to hike a glacier. But when Pietro’s parents offer to take Bruno back home to Turin so he can attend school, Pietro worries that it’ll change his friend. Soon after, Bruno’s father takes him away to learn construction work.
The years pass by and the two don’t have contact with each other, while Pietro grows more frustrated with his own father, causing a wedge between them (though Bruno continued to stay in touch with Giovanni). After Giovanni’s death, Pietro (now played by Luca Marinelli) returns to the mountain town where he learns about a home his father always wanted in the mountains, and a promise Bruno (Alessandro Borghi), still a rugged outdoorsman, made.
It then sets the two up for another summer together in the mountains, this time building a home tucked away in one of the most perfect and serene areas this earth offers. Cinematographer Ruben Impens has a field day capturing the grand landscape and sweeping vistas around the men as they lay
bricks for the home’s exterior. That time together allows for the two to make the bond they once shared even stronger, and for Pietro to learn more about the father he rejected. Hiking all the mountain passes his father once did, Pietro comes across a number of entries his father wrote in journals left for hikers who make it to the top of the peaks.
He reads about the pride and joy his father felt on his first hike with his son, and subsequent entries from his trips with Bruno.
Marinelli and Borghi’s chemistry is a delight to watch. They discuss their dreams and ambitions with such ease and honesty, and it’s a breath of fresh air to see men so open and vulnerable with each other. As the years pass, Pietro and Bruno’s lives keep them far away from each other – the former becoming a writer, finding a new home in Nepal and meeting schoolteacher Asmi (Surakshya Panta), and the latter taking over his uncle’s farm and starting a family with Lara (Elisabetta Mazzullo).
But they always return to each other in the summer and guide each other through difficult moments. It particularly comes into play when Bruno experiences financial hardships with his farm and struggling family life, with Borghi showing an added layer of vulnerability to his character. Marinelli, in return, shows a sense of hopelessness with his character, trying to do whatever he can to help, but knowing it won’t be enough.
If there is a complaint to be made with this otherwise solid tender story, it’s the menacing runtime. The film takes its time building up these characters and their complex lives, which absolutely enriches the story, but does lead to a tedious watch at times. But if viewers can look past the length and instead focus on the story at hand, “The Eight Mountains” will take them on an epic, emotional journey that they may not have anticipated.
It’s a beautiful example of how OK it is for men to be raw and honest with each other, without ever having to fear they’re losing their masculinity for doing so, and hopefully more stories such as this will emerge for years to come.
Rating: 4 out of 5
About The Eight Mountains
Pietro, a city boy who visits the tiny mountain village of Grana with his mother one summer, meets a local herder boy, Bruno. Both 11 years old, they become friends over ensuing summer trips. Years later, Pietro’s father dies, leaving him a remote plot of land high on the mountain.
He reunites with Bruno to rebuild a collapsed house there, rekindling his connection to the mountain and his friendship with Bruno, which continues as they navigate life, dreams, and relationships.
The Eight Mountains played at the Sundance Film Festival 2023.