Stunning in its study of humanity and visceral beauty, The Eight Mountains climbs seemingly impossible heights. At almost two and a half hours long, this portrait of a decades-long friendship between two boys who meet in and around the Italian Alps would seem daunting. But between its exploration of bonds – both friendship and familial – jealousy, regret, and self-discovery, there isn’t a false note.
Adapted from the novel by Paolo Cognetti, the epic story follows the quietly confidant Bruno (Allesandro Borghi), who lives in the Alps on an Alpeggio cheese farm with his aunt and uncle and emotionally distant father (Alex Sassella), and Pietro (Luca Marinelli) who lives in Milan with his businessman father (Filippo TImi) and loving mother (Elena Lietti).
When Pietro and his mother rent a house in the Alps for the summer, Bruno and Pietro become fast friends. So much so that they long for each other during the school year when Bruno remains at home, and Pietro longs for the Alps’ open meadows, lakes, and mountaintops.
The two get separated for about fifteen years, and it is during this time that Bruno grows closer to Pietro’s dad after Pietro decides to leave home to find himself. It isn’t until Pietro’s father dies that Pietro and Bruno are reunited and rekindle their friendship. This occurs over one summer when Bruno decides to build a stone house overlooking the Alps – something Pietro’s father had always dreamed of doing. Together, the two men create a home, but for very different and personal reasons.
Bruno does it to honor the man who became his surrogate father (unbeknownst to Pietro), and Pietro does it to get closer to Bruno – and by proxy – his dad.
This decades-spanning tale finds Pietro pursuing his dreams, traveling the world, and coming to terms with the loss of the man he felt like he should have known better. Bruno learns to love, but emotionally he is still trying to find where he fits. Without Pietro’s father to advise, he finds himself lost, creating a home for someone else in hopes of finding his own.
Written and Directed by Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch (Broken Circle Breakdown), the film is a breathtaking look at how humans connect, love, and pull apart. It is an intimate portrayal of friendship set amongst some of the most beautiful scenery ever committed to film. Every shot is a feast for the eyes, begging to be experienced on the biggest screen imaginable. (It would fit an IMAX screen perfectly.) This is what makes it feel so epic yet so personal. Seeing this big, bold, beautiful world surrounding two men trying to find their place in it is a cinematic experience that rarely occurs.
Our leads, Marinelli and Borghi, pull you into their lives even when they have shields up around themselves. Marinelli’s expressive, blue eyes draw us in as he tries desperately to help his friend and, in doing so, carries the emotional heft of the story. At the same time, Borghi’s quiet, internalized portrayal shows Bruno’s strengths and struggles in equal measure. His character is not the easiest to warm up to, but you find yourself loving him all the same.
Add to that a score and songs by Daniel Norgren that gently surround the actors and scenery, and The Eight Mountains is a movie that fills the senses.
It might not be for everyone, as the film is tenderly paced but consistently absorbing. The friendship of Bruno and Pietro is a perfect portrait of empathy and unconditional love. Whatever jealousy Pietro has for Bruno, whatever the needs of Bruno are that Pietro puts above his own, and for whatever supportive nudging Bruno gives to Pietro when he questions his dreams, these are two men that speak little but love a lot. And it’s a friendship without proclamations. Without fireworks. Without high-drama. And in that, it is profound in its simplicity, matches the expansive beauty surrounding them, and symbolizes their bond.
The Eight Mountains is a film by directors at the peak of their game, a story well worth exploring and a high that will stay with you long after the final frame.