The Eight Mountains

Italy-Belgium-France-UK 2022, 147 mins
Directors: Felix van Groeningen, Charlotte Vandermeersch

In a secluded village in the Italian Alps, an unlikely bond forms between two young boys: Pietro, a boy from the city, and Bruno, who has only ever known life in the mountains. Over the years Bruno remains faithful to his home while Pietro aspires to greater heights, but as decades pass and lives unfold, their paths ultimately lead them back to where they first met. Adapted from the 2016 novel by Paolo Cognetti, this profoundly moving portrait of a lifelong friendship was a co-winner of last year’s Cannes Jury Prize. Set against a magnificent and breath-taking Italian landscape, it is beautifully shot with truly awe-inspiring sequences enveloping its tender explorations of brotherhood, masculinity and nature.
Kimberley Sheehan, Programmer

Only city folk think of nature as Nature, complains Alpine native Bruno (Alessandro Borghi). All that local people think of are things you can point at with your finger: trees, a stream, a meadow. And yet, watching Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch’s adaptation of Paolo Cognetti’s prize-winning novel The Eight Mountains, a saga of a friendship from youth through adulthood, it’s impossible not to weigh such abstractions as countryside and city, civilisation and the wild, oppositions that play out in many comparable stories of camaraderie – Mark Twain’s half-civilised Tom Sawyer and his friend Huckleberry Finn, say, or Johanna Spyri’s Heidi and her goatherd friend Peter.

It’s 1984 when Pietro (played as a child by Lupo Barbiero) first arrives in the Italian Alps for a summer holiday with his mother (Elena Lietti). At his first meeting with Bruno, the difference between the pair is stark. Pietro is a soft-spoken 11-year-old in bright woolly jumpers and shiny hair; Bruno (Cristiano Sassella), slightly older, is all wellies and cow muck. Pietro is spoilt without being brattish; Bruno is foul-mouthed and has to interrupt their play to milk the cows. They literally speak different languages as Bruno teaches Pietro the dialect of the village where he is the only remaining boy, everyone else fleeing in the face of an economic reality that has made rural life untenable.

Despite the idyllic setting, beautifully captured in Ruben Impens’ neat Academy-aspect cinematography, the friendship has its complications. The boys both have dysfunctional relationships with their fathers, and Pietro feels some jealousy when his parents appraise Bruno’s situation and take him back to Turin for schooling. When this falls through, the boys grow distant. Pietro, alienated from his father (Filippo Timi), wanders from job to job without much direction. But after his father dies, Pietro (now played by Luca Martinelli) discovers he had stayed close with Bruno (Borghi) who has now promised to build Pietro a house in a remote patch of the mountains.

The surprising shift in the story is how the film matures with the characters. As adults they become much deeper friends than they ever were as children – no searching for lost innocence here – and their growing maturity is wonderfully portrayed by the two actors, who find better versions of themselves in their understanding of each other. The building of the house over the course of a summer becomes the objective correlative of their friendship, something they can forever share. They enjoy the isolation, swimming in the lake, and conversation. Pietro – or Berio, as he is called in dialect – lightens up and finally finds some direction, traveling to the Himalayas and gaining some success as a writer. Bruno on the other hand throws himself into the idea of living like his ancestors as a true man of the mountains, herding and milking cattle and making cheese.

The nature of their friendship is almost anti-dramatic. When Bruno falls for a former girlfriend of Pietro’s, there’s no jealousy or fight; everything is resolved in a simple phone call. When one of the friends needs help, he asks for and receives it. A bad falling out is resolved the next day. Ang Lee’s male romance Brokeback Mountain inevitably comes to mind, given the film’s pastoral setting and long arc of time, but it is good to see friendship here portrayed with as much complexity as sexual relationships so often are. Martinelli and Borghi are superb, opening up to each other in moments of intimacy yet able to switch to a relaxed matey-ness. The framing of every shot is exquisite and the sense of place and time, the steepness and prospect of the mountains, the snow and freshness of spring are palpable. Daniel Nogren’s soundtrack is often surprising and touching.

Some will balk at the leisurely two-and-a-half-hour running time, but in the mountains the air is clearer and time moves at a different pace. And Bruno and Pietro have a bond you can point at with your finger and say, there it is: there’s a friendship.
John Bleasdale, Sight and Sound,, 20 May 2022

Directed by: Felix van Groeningen, Charlotte Vandermeersch
©: Wildside S.R.L., Rufus BV, Menuetto BV, Pyramide Productions SAS, Vision Distribution S.P.A.
Production Companies: Wildside, Rufus, Menuetto, Pyramide Productions, Vision Distribution
In collaboration with: Elastic, Sky
Presented by: Vision Distribution, Wildside
Produced by: Mario Gianani, Lorenzo Gangarossa
Production Manager: Rocco Messere
Production Supervisors: Saverio Guarascio, Mandella Quilici, Gianluca Mizzi
Location Managers: Federico Fusco, Giorgio Vigna
Post-production Supervisor: Brando Taccini
Artistic Consultant: Paolo Cognetti
Casting: Francesco Vedovati
Child Casting: Morgana Bianco
Written by: Felix Van Groeningen, Charlotte Vandermeersch
Dialogue Collaborator: Paolo Cognetti
Based on the novel by: Paolo Cognetti
Director of Photography: Ruben Impens
Steadicam Operator: Andrea Rauccio
Visual Effects Supervisor: Rodolfo Migliari
Special Effects Co-ordinator: Jacopo Galiano
Editor: Nico Leunen
Additional Editing: Alice Godart
Production Designer: Massimiliano Nocente
Storyboard Artist: David Orlandelli
Costume Designer: Francesca Maria Brunori
Hair and Make-up: Francesca Tampieri
Music by: Daniel Norgren
Sound Recordist: Alessandro Palmerini
Sound Re-recording: Marco Falloni
Supervising Sound Editors: Alessandro Feletti, Andrea Caretti
Sound Effects: Thomas Giorgi
Stunt Co-ordinators: Diego Guerra, Bruno Verdirosi, Salvatore Sammatrice

Luca Marinelli (Pietro)
Alessandro Borghi (Bruno)
Filippo Timi (Giovanni)
Elena Lietti (Francesca)
Elisabetta Mazzullo (Lara)
Lupo Barbiero (young Pietro)
Cristiano Sassella (young Bruno)
Andrea Palma (teenage Pietro)
Surakshya Panta (Asmi)
Chiara Jorrioz (Sonia)
Fiammetta Olivieri (woman with goat)
Gualtiero Burzi (Bruno’s uncle)
Adriano Favre (refuge guardian)
Francesco Palombelli (teenage Bruno)
Alex Sassella (Bruno’s father)

Italy-Belgium-France-UK 2022©
147 mins

A Picturehouse Entertainment release

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Programme notes and credits compiled by the BFI Documentation Unit
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