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The Eight Mountains

  • Film
  • 4 out of 5 stars
  • Recommended
As Oito Montanhas

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars

This heartfelt tribute to platonic friendship soars on incredible performances and breathtaking cinematography

Uprooting a young tree is difficult, we’re told by Bruno (Suburra actor Alessandro Borghi), a burly man of the northern Italian mountains who parcels out his words like his glacially reserved emotions. ‘They’re very strong where they sprout, but vulnerable when moved,’ he grumbles to lifelong friend Pietro (Luca Marinelli, Martin Eden). This truism is tested in the latest aching drama from Belgian filmmaker Felix van Groeningen, who shares directorial duties with co-writer Charlotte Vandermeersch.

Pietro, played as a young lad by Lupo Barbiero, is a city boy dug up from Turin in the early ’80s and replanted to Grana, a picturesque village in the astounding Valle d’Aosta region near the Swiss border. Appearing completely anachronous in a bright red tracksuit top that pops against old cobblestone streets, Pietro nevertheless puts down roots through his friendship with young cow herder Bruno (Cristiano Sassella). Titane cinematographer Ruben Impens captures their bucolic rambling through snow-capped and forest-strewn crags, crevasses and crystal-hued lakes like an oil painting.

This village was once home to 183 souls, but Bruno notes that when a road was built to encourage more folks to settle here, most escaped instead. Where others see a dead end, Pietro sees paradise unpaved. He yearns to return when summer’s over and the scratches of stinging nettles heal. Becoming more adventurous with every visit – he’ll fall in love with Nepal’s peaks one day – he still struggles to keep up with the boundless energy of his father (Filippo Timi) and Bruno. Swedish singer-songwriter Daniel Norgren’s ethereal score occasionally races, heartbeat-like, ominously.

The Eight Mountains resonates most strongly in its pregnant pauses as tectonic shifts rumble below

Thick as thieves as kids, Pietro and Bruno drift apart in their teenage years. Meeting again as thirtysomethings in unfortunate circumstances, it’s Borghi’s stoic Bruno whose roots have loosened. The promise of building a stone home together on these breathtaking slopes may yet reinforce him, with Pietro’s name literally meaning rock. 

If there’s a minor grumble in this gently overwhelming story, it’s that Van Groeningen and Vandermeersch should have trusted their impeccable leads to convey what remains unsaid, instead of imposing an overwrought narration on Marinelli. A Cannes prize winner, The Eight Mountains resonates most strongly in its pregnant pauses as tectonic shifts rumble below and the men navigate paternal estrangement, bereavement, parenthood and marital distress. Much like climbing a mountain, the two-and-a-half-hour runtime may occasionally feel arduous, but the emotional release is worth it once you reach the peak. 

In UK cinemas May 12.

Stephen A Russell
Written by
Stephen A Russell

Cast and crew

  • Director:Charlotte Vandermeersch, Felix van Groeningen
  • Screenwriter:Charlotte Vandermeersch, Felix van Groeningen, Paolo Cognetti
  • Cast:
    • Luca Marinelli
    • Alessandro Borghi
    • Cristiano Sassella
    • Filippo Timi
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