'The Eight Mountains': An arthouse bromance that scales the heights - review

Based on an award-winning novel by Paolo Cognetti, it is slow-paced and gorgeously photographed, but it has its share of magical moments and well-played scenes if you have the patience to wait.

 SCENES FROM ‘The Eight Mountains.’  (photo credit: NEW CINEMA)
SCENES FROM ‘The Eight Mountains.’
(photo credit: NEW CINEMA)

The Eight Mountains is an arthouse bromance, almost an Italian Brokeback Mountain without the sex, and it opens throughout Israel on June 8. Directed by Felix van Groeningen (The Broken Circle Breakdown, Beautiful Boy) and Charlotte Vandermeersch (an actress and writer making her directorial debut), the movie tells the story of a lifelong friendship between two Italian boys who meet in the Alps and spend their lives returning to the same spot, which means different things to them at different moments in their lives.

Based on an award-winning novel by Paolo Cognetti, it is slow-paced and gorgeously photographed – filled with only-a-drone-could-have-taken-them shots that turn up in movies so often these days – but it has its share of magical moments and well-played scenes if you have the patience to wait for them.

The Eight Mountains, which won the Jury Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 2022, is told in three timeframes and starts when Pietro (Lupo Barbieri), an 11-year-old boy, starts going to a village in the mountains with his mother (Eleni Lietti) for the summers, in the 1980s. His father (Filippo Timi), a tightly wound engineer in Turin, visits now and then.

The story of a majestic arthouse bromance

The house they rent is dark and not particularly appealing for a child, but the village comes to life when he meets Bruno (Cristiano Sassello), a boy his age who is the last child left there. When a new road was put in, we learn early on, all but a handful of the villagers left, including Bruno’s mother, who disappeared, and his father, a hard-drinking bricklayer who works abroad.

Bruno lives with his aunt and uncle, who make cheese for a living and rely heavily on Bruno’s help. He is as delighted as Pietro to find another kid to play with. Bruno is completely at home in the mountains and teaches Pietro to love them, too, in a childish, uncomplicated way. Pietro’s father, on his visits, starts taking the boys hiking, but his passion for nature is different, more cerebral.

 SCENES FROM ‘The Eight Mountains.’ (credit: NEW CINEMA)
SCENES FROM ‘The Eight Mountains.’ (credit: NEW CINEMA)

As Pietro’s family gets to know Bruno, they realize how intelligent he is and offer to bring him to Turin, where he can go to a good school, but Bruno is whisked away by his father and follows his path as a laborer. The boys’ paths cross briefly when they are teenagers, but a huge gap separates them. As Pietro grows up, he dreams of becoming a filmmaker or doing other creative work and comes into conflict more often with his father.

EVENTUALLY, PIETRO (Luca Marinelli) and Bruno (Alessandro Borghi) reconnect when they are in their early 30s and they end up building a house together on a remote piece of land Pietro’s father always loved.

They bond while building the house and their friendship deepens. Pietro realizes that this experience creating the house satisfies him in a way that his life in the city where he works in a restaurant kitchen and has many friends doesn’t, but he isn’t sure how to make a change.

Bruno decides to rebuild his uncle’s now-shuttered cheesemaking business and eventually has a family. Pietro writes a novel and wanders the world, landing in Nepal, another mountainous region. But he keeps returning to the Italian Alps and to the warmth of Bruno’s friendship. There are women in the story, but none of them make much of an impression and all the intensity is in the two men’s relationship.

The title refers to a proverb Pietro hears, that the world is made up of a ring of mountains, with one mega-mountain in the middle, and that people can either travel the globe or get to the top of the central mountain. It’s clear that each of them has chosen a different role in this scenario and while they respect each other’s choice, the world has not made it easy for people like Bruno to live off the land.

All of the actors are good and the standouts are the two boys and Alessandro Borghi as the adult Bruno. Bruno could have been a stereotypical taciturn spirit of the mountains, a type rather than a person, but through Borghi’s skilled acting, he seems real and very sympathetic. You can see that as the years go by, the fact that he is at home in the mountains, which made him a king to Pietro when they were children, is less and less meaningful. His frustration over this is very convincing.

Unable to run a business, he founders and nothing works out the way he wants it to, in spite of his intelligence and skills. Most of us have known someone like him, a person whose charisma and talent do not help them in life the way that we would expect it to, but we can still be mesmerized by being near them, and wish we were like them, at least in some ways.

Most moviegoers will identify with Pietro but will wish they could be more like Bruno, in spite of everything.