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The Eight Mountains

The mountains in "The Eight Mountains" are the Italian Alps and the Himalayas, equally beautiful, equally intimidating, and dazzling. They are seen with the eyes of two men who know them very well, feel comfortable climbing up and down the steep slopes, and have absorbed mountain life's challenges and joys. Based on the best-selling novel by Paolo Cognetti, "The Eight Mountains" spans almost 40 years, showing a lifelong friendship between two seemingly very different people, men who became fast friends as children and remain friends, even though life, time, and circumstances, often drive them apart. Directed by Belgian filmmakers Charlotte Vandermeersch and Felix van Groeningen, "The Eight Mountains" works slowly and patiently. It doesn't rush. This may be frustrating for some viewers, but the film works because of its slowness and patience, not despite it. A film like this needs time to establish the building blocks of the relationship and allow the breathing room necessary. 

"The Eight Mountains" starts with the meeting of two 11-year-old boys in a remote village in the Italian Alps. Pietro (Lupo Barbiero) is a kid from Turin whose mother rented a summer house in the mountains. Bruno (Cristiano Sassella) lives with his aunt and uncle, working their farm. The two boys come from different worlds but are the only children in the village. They become friends instantly, out of convenience, but also because they throw themselves into shared activities with the easy trust children often have. They have an idyllic summer, wandering the steep slopes, swimming in a blue-green mountain lake, and at one point, hauling rocks into a stream to build a makeshift dam. At the end of the summer, Pietro goes back to Turin. Bruno stays behind. Bruno and Pietro reunite every summer, picking up where they left off. Sometimes friendships formed in childhood are like that if we're lucky.

The film moves through their adolescence, when they lose touch with each other, and into adulthood, where Pietro (Luca Marinelli) and Bruno (Alessandro Borghi) find their way toward one another again. In many cases, their friendship is the only stable thing in the flux of life. Bruno stayed in the mountains. He could never leave. His dream is to take over his aunt and uncle's abandoned dairy farm, where he can make cheese and live the life of his ancestors. Pietro is not as certain about his destiny. He wanders. He writes. He waits tables. Every summer, he returns to the mountains to hang out with Bruno. The passage of time, and Pietro's voiceover, show the film's novelistic source material. 

Vandermeersch and van Groeningen, in collaboration with cinematographer Ruben Impens, capture the mountains' changeable moods, their daunting heights and dizzying valleys, peaks upon peaks, the way the dawn hits the mountaintops, the steepness of the slopes where Bruno and Pietro lie on their backs, nearly vertical, soaking up the sun. Some real mountain climbing is done in "The Eight Mountains," and some of the footage is awe-inspiring. The men go on hikes, stalking across the trails at the top, abysses opening up on either side. Bruno is comfortable in the mountains—he couldn't live anywhere else—and Pietro, whose workaholic dad really only came alive when he went on mountain hikes, becomes one of those wanderlust backpackers flooding into Tibet. 

Some obvious drone shots are included, but much of the hiking sequences appear to have been done with Steadicams, following the men through their treacherous treks. Andrea Rauccio is listed as the Steadicam operator, but the credits for camera operators are lengthy, and the entire crew deserves credit. There are times when the camera is so far back that all you see is an entire expanse of white, with a tiny person trekking across the blinding snow. It may be a cliche to say the mountains are the third main character in the film, but it's the truth.

The mountains are important. Time is given to allow us to soak up the atmosphere, and to get to know the familiar slopes in different weathers, at dawn, dusk, winter, and summer. Swedish composer Daniel Norgren's score is a huge contribution. Music plays almost throughout, sometimes a long keening note, with muffled percussion underneath, creating an eerie, lonely feeling. There are songs, too, utilized to smooth over the passage of time. The film works cumulatively. There is conflict on occasion, but it's not the driving force. Lifelong friendships aren't made up of intense highs and lows. They're made up of time spent, of being mindful and thoughtful towards your friend and ensuring to stay in touch, even with the distance between them. 

The friendship feels real, and this is crucial. The film wouldn't work without it. There are depths to be plumbed, and the film takes the time to do so. There are relationships with parents, women, finances, and big questions like: What should I do with my life? Am I on the right path? "The Eight Mountains" is a reminder of how rare it is to see a film about male friendship that doesn't involve crime or hangover-like shenanigans. Some people have a wide circle of friends. Others have just one good friend, the friend with whom you cannot hide, the friend with whom it is always easy: even the fights won't threaten the bond. Maybe a friendship like this has to start in childhood, before you know better before you squint at people trying to "vet" them. Children say to each other, "Wanna play?" with no other words necessary. If Bruno and Pietro met for the first time as adult men, it might not have happened. We become closed off, set in our ways, and cautious of others. 

"The Eight Mountains," and its dedication to the slow rhythms of Bruno and Pietro's friendship, call to mind the famous final lines of William Butler Yeats' poem The Municipal Gallery Revisited

Think where man’s glory most begins and ends
And say my glory was I had such friends.

Now playing in theaters. 

Sheila O'Malley

Sheila O'Malley received a BFA in Theatre from the University of Rhode Island and a Master's in Acting from the Actors Studio MFA Program. Read her answers to our Movie Love Questionnaire here.

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Film Credits

The Eight Mountains movie poster

The Eight Mountains (2023)

Rated NR

147 minutes

Cast

Luca Marinelli as Pietro Guasti

Alessandro Borghi as Bruno Guglielmina

Filippo Timi as Giovanni Guasti

Elena Lietti as Francesca Guasti

Elisabetta Mazzullo as Lara

Lupo Barbiero as Pietro (da piccolo)

Cristiano Sassella as Bruno (da piccolo)

Surakshya Panta as Asmi

Gualtiero Burzi as Luigi

Elisa Zanotto as Barbara

Chiara Jorrioz as Sonia

Director

Writer (novel)

Writer

Cinematographer

Editor

Composer

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