Friendship is something which is important to each and every one of us. Of even greater importance are the best friends we make as children. Whether we stay close or travel far from one another, there’s a special bond which can never be severed.
Such a friendship is formed when young Pietro‘s family rent a summer vacation house in Grana in the Italian Alps. There he meets Bruno, a local child of the same age and the two hit it off immediately. Pietro‘s father Giovanni (Filippo Timi) grows to love Bruno as if he was his own and the three embark on mountaineering expeditions together. But life can be cruel and as he ages, Pietro resists the call of the mountain. Preferring to roam, he grows distant from not only Bruno but his father as well.
Over a decade later the adult Pietro (Luca Marinelli) receives word of his father’s passing. Returning to Grana he reunites with Bruno (Alessandro Borghi) and the two plan to complete Giovanni‘s last wish: building a cabin on the Alps. The friendship is rekindled and the two are closer than ever. But despite their connection, they are both very different men. Over years, the complexities of life force them apart as much as friendship brought them back together.
Based on the award-winning novel by Paolo Cognetti, The Eight Mountains is written and directed by creative and life partners Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch. The Belgian born couple learned Italian to better equip themselves in telling this story. Now chosen for special presentation at the 2023 ST. ALi Italian Film Festival, the two have created an epic tale of friendship and self-discovery.
‘The Eight Mountains’ itself refers to a Buddhist concept that the world is comprised of eight mountains and seas. They surround a ninth mountain, Sumeru, the tallest of all. The question is, who learns the most? Those who travel to all eight mountains or those who reach the peak of Sumeru?
The film tackles various themes through its story and characters. Chief among them is of course the power of friendship and the weight it can hold in shaping our lives. Fatherhood is also looked upon from various angles. Bruno seems to connect with this surrogate dad more than he did to his own. While Pietro rejects his father’s love early on and spends the rest of the film regretting it, all the while learning to better understand him now as an adult.
The boundless wonder of nature itself is a major element of the story. The filmmakers began work on this movie during the pandemic, when people of the world over were trapped inside. Throughout, we scale giant mountains in Italy as well as the Himalayas in Nepal, marvelling at the sheer beauty of these ancient behemoths which will outlast us all.
All of this is shot amazingly by cinematographer Ruben Impens. The film maintains a 4:3 ‘square’ aspect ratio which at first, I found odd. But from watching the film it becomes clear how much focus is put on the height of the screen as opposed to the width. As Pietro and Bruno grow taller, they also reach higher peaks of their mountains, a fascinating experiment as it would have been so tempting to simply shoot these amazing views in a traditional wide-screen format.
The relationship between Pietro and Bruno is platonic but handled much like a love story. Their long-lasting bond and summer reunions bring comfort but also act as a mirror to judge their own lives. Both principal characters have a lust for nature and the great outdoors but pursue this in a very different way.
Pietro is the wanderer who is never satisfied to put down roots in one place, while Bruno feels a kinship to his mountaineer ancestors, happy to climb the same mountain forever. The dynamic between the two play out well via the real-world friendship shared by actors Marinelli and Borghi. It always feels like there’s something driving a wedge between them but seeing them together on-screen just feels right.
The Eight Mountains is a visually and emotionally stunning film from Groeningen and Vandermeersch. It can feel lengthy at times but if anything, this just adds to the film’s intentionally epic story. A four-decade long tale which perfectly blends the bitter-sweet feeling of vast nature with the nostalgia of a lifelong friendship.
For more information on The Eight Mountains, the 2023 ST. ALi Italian Film Festival and ticketing, visit: https://www.italianfilmfestival.com.au