“The Eight Mountains”, to life, to death

The Eight Mountains ***

by Charlotte Vandermeersch and Felix Van Groeningen

Franco-Belgian film, 2 h 27

Every summer, Pietro’s family, city dwellers from Turin, takes up summer quarters in a high-perched village in the Aosta Valley, a deserted hamlet where only a couple of high-altitude peasants remain. They raise their nephew, Bruno, a loner with a simple heart, an ace of resourcefulness who grows up far from the world. The father, a mason, left to sell his arms abroad. Bruno, the mountain boy, intrigues Pietro, the city kid, surrounded by a loving mother and an overworked father, an engineer, a frenzied hiker, who rushes towards the least accessible mountains, fascinated by glaciers, memories of past winters.

From this cohabitation in this confetti will be born, between the two children then adolescents, then adults, a very long story of friendship. To life, to death. Despite a long eclipse. Bruno’s father suddenly took him on board to save him from the proposal of Pietro’s parents to welcome him to their home, in town, to follow a real schooling. When Bruno (Alessandro Borghi) and Pietro (Luca Marinelli) meet again, fifteen years later, they have changed a lot. Life has separated them, it will bring them closer around the reconstruction of a ruined hovel, loaded with a promise. Bruno, back home, teaches Pietro, always on the move, in search of himself, the art of reconciliation. Little by little, he reveals a secret to him that forces Pietro to reconsider his father, whom he had rejected before his brutal death, and to find, thanks to circumstances, a form of inner peace.

Paolo Cognetti’s first novel, The Eight Mountains (Paperback), Strega Prize (the equivalent of Goncourt in Italy) and Medici Foreign 2017, translated into forty languages, has had a planetary fortune. An existential and geographical journey, a story of initiation and friendship, the adaptation, faithful to the book, turns out to have been, for the two filmmakers, the adventure of the rebirth of their couple as much as that of creation.

The success of this beautiful film, awarded the jury prize at the 75th Cannes Film Festival, is based on the excellence of the actors’ interpretation, the elegance and sobriety of the staging, in particular to evoke, in modest ellipses , dramatic moments. The simple gestures weave the epic of a life and the images of the passing of the seasons compose a sort of harmony. The two directors make fun of city dwellers who fall in love with nature, and have the illusion of rebuilding their existence there in the name of a naive idealism.

Beneath appearances smolders regret

The splendor of the landscapes disputes it with the thickness of the passing time, with the density of the feelings, with the serene certainties of Bruno, well encamped in his mountains, opposed to the erratic progress of Pietro, who runs from the Alps to Nepal. But beneath appearances smolders regret. Each character is tormented by a feeling of incompleteness, a bitter taste of failure. Bruno, who claims his loneliness clinging to the peaks, concedes, faced with reversals of fortune, a form of pain in the face of his destiny drawn in advance. Pietro, an apprentice writer, never finds a place to settle down, before unearthing happiness at the end of the road, in the distant mountains of Nepal.

Apart from the indestructible friendship, a certain melancholy sifts the film, when the characters become aware of their trajectories, without succeeding in disentangling what concerns the fatal slope of the origins or the weight of the decisions. The couple Felix Van Groeningen-Charlotte Vandermeersch (who had already worked together on Alabama Monroe, in 2013) signs a film against the current, woven with good feelings, purity, authenticity. Without cynicism, without violence, without even giving in to the fashions of the moment. An out-of-date film, therefore timeless.


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