The Eight Mountains

MovieSteve rating:
Your star rating:

Slow cinema? Not quite, but there’s definitely an aspect of slow cinema in the exquisitely paced The Eight Mountains (Le Otto Montagne), an Italian-language boys-to-men journey through the decades.

They meet as 12-year-olds, Pietro a blow-in from the city with his parents, Bruno the local lad and only kid left in this dying village, where his family still milks cows and does things the old way.

Initial nervousness out of the way, the two boys become a fierce unit – patrolling the area, examining the many abandoned buildings, swimming in lakes, climbing the hills, the idyllic relationship, Pietro the effete city boy, Bruno the solid country toughie.

And then, on the small adventure that will yoke them together for ever, Pietro’s father takes the two boys climbing up on the glacier, where Pietro starts to wonder if his father would actually have preferred to have smart, strong Bruno as his son rather than himself.

A few years pass and Pietro returns for the summer. Bruno is now a bricklayer and in a bar where they meet by accident he gives Pietro a half nod – to Pietro’s half-raised hand. And that’s it as far as the interaction goes.

A few years more and Pietro’s dad has died, and it turns out – that old niggle – that he and Bruno had been in touch all this time. Rebuild the old summer house, Pietro’s dad had asked Bruno. And so Bruno does, with Pietro as his labourer up on the high pastures. They reconnect.

Bruno and Pietro nail down the roof
Top of the world: Bruno and Pietro

It goes on like this – a few years pass, developments, new relationships, the old anxiety on Pietro’s part, entirely unacknowledged by Bruno, who is a man of the mountains. Silent, stoic, self-contained, wise to Pietro’s anxious, eager-to-please, itchy-of-foot. Pietro starts travelling, mostly to Nepal, while Bruno stays in the Alps, eventually becoming a cheesemaker who does things the old way.

It could all be a melodrama, and at bottom it is – the boy whose dad sees another boy as the more fitting son – but no one involved in making this film wants to do it that way. There are no big performances, either by the child actors who play Pietro and Bruno as 12-year-olds, or the strapping teens who play them as ships who pass in the night, or when Luca Marinelli and Alessandro Borghi take on the characters as they hit manhood and sail into middle age. Both actors of range and subtlety, Marinelli and Borghi dial it back, with Borghi particularly poker-faced.

Daniel Norgren’s folky soulful songs and soundtrack act like a comfort blanket, Ruben Impens’s crystalline cinematography present the mountains as bright and clear and spectacular – would he admit that Leni Riefenstahl (Hitler’s favourite director) lurks somewhere in the background here, in the depiction of the heroic landscapes where noble peasants hew to the ways of the soil? Would anyone?

It’s the story of two men maturing, with Pietro in need of doing the more growing up, while Bruno also has a lesson to learn – that the old ways aren’t necessarily the best ways. It’s also another engaging depiction of enduring relationships by Felix van Groeningen, who’s become very good at this sort of thing since debuting in 2004 with Steve + Sky. Since then, the relationship annealed by tragedy has been his forte – see The Misfortunates (De Helaasheid der Dingen) and The Broken Circle Breakdown for more on that. His partner, Charlotte Vandermeersch, gets co-director credit this time out, but she’s collaborated on most of his films, either as actor or on writing the screenplay.

Like the older films, The Eight Mountains is aiming for a kind of serene higher state, the trick being to keep us dramatically locked in while Bruno and Pietro individually attempt to do something fairly undramatic – find a place in the world, achieve an inner calm, mature, grow up.

It pulls off this feat entirely but works on another level too. Pausing momentarily from the squawk of social media, we watch as two bearded men pile stone on top of stone, or milk cows, or climb hills. It’s an antidote to the modern world, cinema pronounced ASMR.

The Eight Mountains – Watch it/buy it at Amazon

I am an Amazon affiliate

© Steve Morrissey 2023

Leave a Comment