The Eight Mountains (IFFBoston 2023)

In the summer of ’84, 11 year-old only child Pietro (Lupo Barbiero) is taken by his mother (Elena Lietti) to vacation in Grana in the Italian Alps, his father (Filippo Timi, "Vincere") staying behind in Turin with his work as an engineer.  There he will meet his rural counterpart Bruno (Cristiano Sassella), who will become his lifelong friend even as the two take divergent paths, Pietro opting for the Buddhist concept of “The Eight Mountains.”

Laura's Review: B+

Directors Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch (“The Broken Circle Breakdown”) adapt Paolo Cognetti’s novel with spiritual profundity, both connecting and separating their three main characters through their love of mountains while illustrating the intensity of close male friendship and the potentially fraught nature of father and son relationships.  Like their Oscar nominated 2012 film, this one features the construction of a house, differing philosophies and a soundtrack from one artist organic to the material (here a curation of songs by Swedish singer/songwriter Daniel Norgren).

The friendship formed on their own takes on a new characteristic when Pietro’s father Giovanni joins his family the following year.  Bruno will be impressed with his friend’s father’s knowledge as he tells them how glaciers hold the history of the mountains and the two will accompany him climbing high peaks, Bruno more adept than Pietro, who suffers altitude sickness.  When Bruno goes off to his uncle’s alpeggio to help with his cheese making, Giovanni offers to make the hour hike with Pietro to visit his friend, but Pietro isn’t happy when he learns his father has secured Bruno’s uncle’s agreement to have the boy come and live with them in Turin to further his education.  But Bruno’s father does not like the idea either, taking his 13 year-old to work construction and the next summer all that passes between them is a nod and wave in a bar.  The two will not speak for fifteen years, until Pietro returns to Grana following his estranged father’s death.

It is here that Pietro (now Luca Marinelli, "Martin Eden," "The Old Guard") learns from Bruno (Alessandro Borghi), who had been in touch with his parents all these years, that Gianni had purchased a remote plot of land with a crumbling home high up in the mountains with dreams of rebuilding it.  Bruno proposes they do just that, Pietro providing only the cost of supplies and labor under Bruno’s supervision.  Four months later, the stone and beam home is finished and Pietro declares that it belongs to both of them, a place to spend their summers.  And that’s just what happens for a while, until Pietro invites a bunch of friends and one of them, Lara (Elisabetta Mazzullo), forms an attachment to Bruno that leads them into a sustainable dairy business which requires constant supervision.  Meanwhile Pietro finds himself in Nepal and meets Asmi (Surakshya Panta).

The title of the film refers to the Buddhist concept of the eight mountains and eight seas that constitute the world and which surround the highest mountain in the middle.  Pietro will ask Bruno which he thinks makes for a better life – visiting the eight mountains or staying at the highest one in the center – and it is clear this is what separates these two devoted friends, even as they both recognize how ‘mountain people’ appear to be the same the world over.  The film underscores loss not once, but twice, both times made all the more moving by the solitary conditions in which the characters depart.

Cinematographer Ruben Impens ("The Broken Circle Breakdown," "Titane") shoots some jaw-dropping scenery in a 1.33 : 1 aspect ratio, emphasizing both altitude and intimate exchanges.  Groeningen and Vandermeersch’s “The Eight Mountains” is a complex dive into male relationships, one which illustrates that men can be manly without closing off their emotions.

Robin's Review: B+

Sideshow / Janus opens "The Eight Mountains" in select theaters on 4/28/23.  It is playing as part of IFFBoston 2023 - click here for the schedule.