The evolving relationship between two lifelong friends across multiple decades serves as the framework for a deceptively complex narrative in The Eight Mountains, which screens at this year’s Karlovy Vary International Film Festival after winning the Jury Prize at Cannes, where it played in competition.
Written and directed by Belgian filmmakers Charlotte Vandermeersch and Felix van Groeningen (The Broken Circle Breakdown) from Paolo Cognetti’s acclaimed autobiographical novel, The Eight Mountains is gorgeously shot, richly evocative, and unexpectedly profound. This is one of the best movies of the first half of 2022, and deserving of its place on top ten lists by the end of the year.
The Eight Mountains opens with young Pietro (played as a 10-year-old by Lupo Barbiero), a city boy from Milan who finds himself in a remote village in the Italian Alps during a summer holiday with his mother (Elena Lietti). Bruno (Cristiano Sassella) is the lone child in the village, and helps out on his uncle’s farm.
Pietro and Bruno bond over the course of the summer, but a wedge is driven in their relationship when Pietro’s parents invite Bruno to come live with them and attend school in the city, an opportunity he lacks in the mountains.
While The Eight Mountains is initially a nostalgic, intimate tale of youth, the scope widens exponentially after the first act to chart the lives of Pietro (played by Luca Marinelli as an adult) and Bruno (Alessandro Borghi) across the next decades; while both take their own paths in life, they are drawn back to the small mountain village over the course of the years.
While the friendship between Pietro and Bruno forms the base for The Eight Mountains’ story, the narrative flows through an incredible amount of thematic material during its running time, memorably including the relationship between fathers and sons.
When Pietro’s father (Filippo Timi) visits the family during the first summer, he seems more interested in exploring the nearby peaks than spending time with his son. Pietro gets altitude sickness during one excursion with his dad up the mountains, an event that holds greater importance than he realizes.
The Eight Mountains derives its title from the Eight Summits, the highest peaks on the seven continents across the world and the external journey that Pietro finds himself tackling during his formative years.
In one of the film’s key scenes, Pietro explains a story told to him by a fellow traveler: that of the eight summits scattered around the world, and how they lead to a single summit at the center of the Earth. This summit represents an internal one within oneself: some of us seek to climb the external summits throughout our lives, while others seek to master the internal one. The journeys parallel each other.
Directors Vandermeersch and van Groeningen tell The Eight Mountains’ story with grace and care, letting the emotional undercurrents slowly resonate without ever sacrificing narrative tension. Gorgeous 4:3 cinematography by Ruben Impens (who also shot last year’s Cannes winner Titane) creates an evocative vision in the mountains of Italy and other locations across the world.
The Eight Mountains is beautiful, poetic, and destined to draw tears from most viewers during multiple points in its narrative. This is a deeply moving story and an unforgettable piece of cinema, and a real high point from this year’s festival in Karlovy Vary.