One-liner: While aloof and overlong, this haunting and spirited adventure drama soars on majestic visuals, earnest performances and powerful themes.
The Eight Mountains is an adventure drama directed by Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch, based on the novel of the same name by Paolo Cognetti. A beautifully shot and meditative epic set against the Italian Alps, The Eight Mountains focusses on the lifelong friendship between Pietro and Bruno. Having fun over summer holidays to rebuilding a mountainside cabin, the film explores the intricacies and intimacy of their friendship and life’s paths as they weave in and out of contact.
It’s rare for a film to grapple with an enduring friendship, yet The Eight Mountains takes its time to reveal various textures to the core relationship from boyhood to manhood. There are some strong similarities with Ang Lee’s Brokeback Mountain. Based on the intimacy and remote nature of the location, you’d ordinarily expect Pietro and Bruno’s love for each other to progress into the realm of romance. Yet, as much as this preconceived tension exists, their enduring kinship remains brotherly as their appreciation of one another, competitive rivalry and lives intertwine.
The Eight Mountains stars Luca Marinelli and Alessandro Borghi, who could have been loosely modelled on Brokeback Mountain’s Jake Gyllenhaal and Heath Ledger. Their differences are established at regular intervals with Pietro a city kid turned writer who’s more cerebral than the earthier Bruno. While a spirit of adventure drives Pietro, he realises his limitations, struggling to understand his father’s journey who has more in common with the mountain man, Bruno. Destined to live off the land until he evaporates with the snow, Bruno’s rugged approach is at odds with Pietro, who learns a great deal about his estranged father through their friendship.
Marinelli and Borghi have good chemistry as originally established by young Andrea Palma and Francesco Palombelli as the younger Pietro and Bruno. From their childhood games to their eventual reunion, there’s a sense of familiarity and history that helps anchor the core relational dynamic. Excellent supporting performances from Elena Lietti as Francesca and Filippo Timi as Pietro’s father go a long way to framing the deep bond between the men. Still, Marinelli and Borghi add depth and complexity to their intrepid characters in the quieter moments, often without relying on dialogue.
“For the last time… no, we’re not there yet.”
Van Groeningen and Vandermeersch have a good understanding of true friendship, cleverly navigating the relationship through chasing the dream, grief, jealousy, loneliness and the onset of adult responsibility. A long run time at two-and-half hours, it’s not without reward, allowing the deliberately slower passing of time to help immerse audiences into the flow of this multi-generational story.
The Eight Mountains is a breathtakingly beautiful film that recalls Into the Wild and The Alpinist in its precarious balance between nature and humanity. The offbeat soundtrack from Daniel Norgren may have been inspired by Eddie Vedder’s soulful interludes from Into the Wild, offering an ethereal alternative sound to add a spiritual undertone. Then the mountaineering, fearless independence and bohemian affinity have a resonance with Marc-André Leclerc’s spirited tale.
The Italian Alps make it picturesque, yet it carries a nostalgic and haunting thread that adds a wistful edge to the visuals through the ages and seasons. While there are hints at a deeper philosophy, The Eight Mountains revels in the simplicity of its natural ebb-and-flow as the storytelling captures snapshots as if chronicled by way of docudrama. This subtle approach adds a touch of realism without having to overstate things, allowing the audience to be swathed in the majesty and soul.
The story is refreshing, the visuals are awe-inspiring, the co-leads are strong, the themes are haunting and the nostalgic tone has its charms. Unfortunately, as artful and masterful as it may be at times, the film lacks impact value. Relaying snapshots from Pietro and Bruno’s lives to chart their lifelong friendship, the story is suprisingly fleeting, even for its slower pacing. Possibly owing to the subtle handling, the bonds of the friendship are wispy… made all the more enigmatic and insubstantial by a consistent distance with the co-leads. Perhaps something was lost in translation, the adaptation reveals shortcomings from the novel or the characters are just too aloof to invest in.
This exploration is breathtaking for all the right reasons, offering a timely and thought-provoking examination of friendship in an age where we’ve never been more disconnected from each other and nature. As such, The Eight Mountains manages to summit many peaks with uncommon insight and splendour but unfortunately doesn’t carry the life force, story focus and emotional weight necessary to make it as timeless as it could have been in the midst of other spirited adventure dramas of its ilk. A natural, rewarding and worthwhile adventure drama based on its many strengths, The Eight Mountains offers a rare glimpse of a real, untethered friendship.
The bottom line: Life-affirming