The Eight Mountains Review: In More Than Just a Slice of Life, Ideal and Reality Collide


very similar to what was discovered in the glacier eight mountainsThe film captures a lifetime of memories, anthologizing each moment as it happened. Written and directed by the husband and wife duo of Felix van Groeningen (handsome boy) and Charlotte VanderMeersch, there is a palpable sense of love in this project that started after a troubled period of their relationship. With the first draft of the screenplay being completed in the spring of 2020, it’s no wonder they were drawn to such a detailed and nature-based story after being locked in the house.

Based on the beautifully written and concise novel of the same name by Paolo Cagneti, eight mountains (which won the jury prize at Cannes) follows the life of Pietro Guasti, primarily played by Luca Marinelli, from the age of 11 through the following decades. We first meet Pietro when his parents – Francesca and Giovanni, played by Elena Litt and Filippo Timi respectively – take him to a small alpine village for the summer. It is here that she meets Bruno Guglielmina, whose adult self is portrayed by Alessandro Borghi, and the trajectory of her life is irrevocably changed.

a friendship forged in nature

Being the only two children in Grana, the village where Bruno lives and Pietro visits, the bond between the pair may seem inevitable, but its longevity goes beyond a friendship of convenience. Describing the alienation he experienced in the town, Bruno tells Pietro, “They built a road to attract more people to Grana, you know what happened instead? They all left.”

So, coming across another boy his age, how could he not seek friendship? Their relationship grows stronger when Giovanni begins taking them on stunning hikes to the surrounding peaks and mainly on a glacier. On a glacial hike, the three reach a crevasse that Giovanni and Bruno are able to cross, but Pietro cannot.

As time passes, the rift between Pietro and his father deepens while Bruno and Giovanni grow closer. After a gap of 15 years between Pietro and Bruno in which they have no contact, an unexpected event brings them together again. Now, as adults, they build an alpine cabin together where they will continue to meet for summers to come. The film slowly traces the ideas of dreams, masculinity, and nature versus society In a series of hikes, talks and projects. Its loose structure is appropriate and allows the story to swing from year to year without feeling different.

Battle between urbanism and ruralism

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The conflict between a picturesque life in the mountains – working with animals and the land – and the growing need to return to the city for education, business or social connection is central eight mountains, Born and raised in a low altitude, Pietro feels a responsibility to live a more normal life. He jumps from one unfinished task to another, all the while waiting for his chance to head to his mountain retreat. Bruno, on the other hand, cannot imagine a life outside of what he knows, which is making cheese and bathing in streams.

Although each envy the other for what they seem to lack, the reality is that they are both dwarfed by their relationship with the mountains. For Pietro, his dreams seem unattainable due to his deep belief that life on the mountain is unsustainable. It is not until he is encouraged by Bruno, who represents this ideal, that he is able to find a true purpose in his work. In contrast, Bruno’s restricted way of living has its consequences. He discusses how the way to express sadness in his regional dialect was by saying “it takes long” and that he didn’t think there were other ways to express the emotion, saying “bad words, bad thoughts.” Yet despite this revelation, he remains steadfast in the face of turmoil.

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This push and pull between the two men and their beautiful but restrictive surroundings is visualized through the film’s 1.33:1 aspect ratio. While we are presented with indescribably stunning visuals, the aspect ratio deprives us of the broad, sweeping views that viewers have come to expect. By confining the scenery in this way, a strong and intimate sense of place is created, but it comes at the expense of detail and freedom.

Additionally, it helps to position the film in a 1980s (early) setting when aspect ratios were more widely used. This detail from cinematographer Ruben Impens (black Mirror, Titanunites visual style of the film with its original argument. He does this in a way that is subtle enough that it doesn’t hinder the action itself but still shapes how we experience the entire runtime.

the ebb and flow of a curved structure

Young Bruno and Pietro in the Eight Mountains
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eight mountains has a loose, meandering structure, which is fitting for a film that focuses largely on ramblings and dialogue. While the lack of a traditional plot or arc may be off-putting to those accustomed to more rigidly constructed fare, it is the most appropriate way to tell this story. In a sense, the narrative feels like a series of vignettes from each season that the two friends spend together or apart. This format gives each moment room to breathe, and allows the scenes to flow together smoothly.

The unrestricted size of these scenes makes important use of moments of silence. instead of this fast paced dialogue One that hurries through crucial moments in order not to lose the attention of the audience, this script takes its time. From the perspective of our busy present times, it provides a blissful respite from our culture of constant connectivity and information. When Pietro and Bruno are hiking we feel the sounds of the animals around, their breathing and the earth beneath their shoes. On their first hike together, Bruno begins to speak, but he is swiftly interrupted by Pietro, saying, “We can talk later. Now we can’t. We’ll talk when we stop.” It is those silences that further our immersion in their distant world.

eight mountains were cast
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Where? eight mountains Where the structure falls short is in its pacing and how it captures the passage of time. The early stages of Pietro and Bruno’s lives as children and teenagers pass by rapidly. As a result, the complex relationship between Bruno, Pietro, and Pietro’s father is established somewhat haphazardly.

An argument can certainly be made that in the grand scheme of life, these formative years go by quickly and the film portrays the evasiveness of youth. However, when so much of the film hinges on the relationships with the men in the boys’ lives, more time could have been spent exploring this. Especially when the filmmakers have 147 minutes at their disposal and a final act that slightly overstays its welcome.

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Machismo, Fatherhood, and the Mountain

bruno in eight mountains
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One of the most refreshing aspects of this film is its ability to discuss masculinity and fatherhood in a way that feels natural. It avoids falling into the camp of overly graphic critique, As if Banshee of Inishrin, who use violent shock tactics to get their point across. Instead, it presents us with the complex dynamics between the two men and their fathers. Pietro was ashamed of his father’s social life and lack of dreams, which led him to seek freedom and escape. Bruno’s father took him away from his home to work when he was only 13, so he returned to the mountain as soon as he was able and never wanted to leave.

Afterwards, there is a thoughtful discussion of their father’s families and how the different generations have influenced each other. The fact that Pietro and Bruno spend time opening these cycles is particularly disconcerting because of Italy’s culture of masculinity. While patriarchal ideals and practices are prevalent globally, they affect each culture differently. In a voiceover, Pietro states that his mother was “accustomed to living among silent men,” and would therefore bear the burden of communication for the family. Pietro and Bruno go a long way in improving their father’s actions, but remain unable to communicate in a completely unintelligible way.

as told by filmmaker magazineA different actor was originally cast as Giovanni, but dropped out due to filming conditions and had to be replaced at the last minute. This worked in the film’s favor, as Timmy did an amazing job with relatively few scenes. He expresses anger, sadness, strength and weakness all at once and lays an incredible foundation for subsequent comments on masculinity throughout the film. Without his performance as the patriarch, the story would not flow through various discussions of relationships with friends, nature, and self, essentially returning to rest on the mountain like Pietro and Giovanni.

From Wildside, Rufus, Menuetto and Pyramid Productions in association with Elastic Distribution, eight mountains will open in Los Angeles on May 5th courtesy of Vision Distribution, and you can find showtimes and listing here,