de facto film reviews 3 stars

Belgian filmmaker Felix van Groeningen makes another film outside of his homeland but returns to his smaller-scale emotional dramas like The Broken Circle Breakdown with The Eight Mountains, a long way home from his Hollywood studio drama Beautiful Boy that starred Steve Carrel and Timohty Chalamet. A simple, absorbing drama—with plenty of emotionalism along the way—about a friendship between childhood best friends who grow up together in a remote Alpine village, part ways, and eventually rekindle their friendship years later as adults.

This time  van Groeningen collaborates as both a co-writer and co-director with his wife Charlotte Vandermeersch, together, they create a deeply intimate, often emotionally raw, and visually breathtaking film about friendship, aging, and the importance of reinventing oneself. An adaptation of the Italian novel Le otto Montagne by Paolo Cognetti’ finds deep resonance in this flawed but commanding adaptation.


The Eight Mountains (movie, 2022) Courtesy Janus Films

Winner of the jury prize at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, the film is nearly 150 minutes long, but it’s never a slog. Well-paced, but never hasty, and at times a little too serene. While there are some ill-advised creative decisions with the soundtrack of songs composed by Swedish song writer and artist Daniel Norgren playing over the imager, some moments end up feeling maudlin. While the music sounds fine and is clearly inspired by the late Leonard Cohen’s songs that run over Robert Altman’s McCabe and Mrs. Miller, the impact feels less elegiac and more cloying. Despite these small quibbles, the film ends up achieving some grace due to its raw emotions. A passage of time type of film, that chronicles two close friends, Pietro (Luca Marinelli) and Bruno (Alessandro Borghi), throughout the course of their lives in the apex of an Alps village in northwestern Italy called Aosta.

The narrative begins with Pietro and Bruno, who are just 12-year-old boys. They both come from different social classes. Pietro comes from a more upper-middle-class home in Turin and goes with his parents to retreat from the city. Bruno is raised by his aunt and uncle, who live on a farm and raise stock in the mountains. The two boys bond and instantly become friends. One of the most gripping moments in the beginning chapter is when the boys go mountain climbing, and Pietro keeps sliding down the mountain once he’s terrified of jumping over a gap in the mountain.

The Eight Mountains Directors on Conveying an Epic Scope, Losing Parents,  and Letting Go of Their Film Courtesy Janus Films

Sadly, their friendship is disrupted after Pietro’s parents offer Bruno to live in Turin with them. Bruno’s absent father is insulted by the offer and takes Bruno back to work with him on a construction site. Meanwhile, Petro becomes a teenager and holds a lot of animosity towards his father as tension grows between them. The friction is also more intricate than we realize, as Pietro feels Bruno is the song his father always wanted since Bruno is stronger and he certainly impressed Pietro’s father with his outdoor skills at a young age.

The film transitions into different periods in the boy’s life, up until they are grown men with beards. Both men don’t have any real aspirations for a career in their 20s yet. They end up spending their time back in the mountains and building a hut on the summit that will be their retreat spot. The hut becomes a metaphor for how the two men are going to rebuild themselves, their friendship, and past emotional wounds that they hold deeply from their fathers. Yet their friendship still faces many junctions that are straining. Revelations are discovered in how Pietro’s father was in fact like a quasi-father to Bruno as Pietro was off to college studying. Pietro ends up meeting a young woman who ends up taking more of a liking to Bruno, and the men part ways again. Pietro ends up becoming a celebrated and published writer. However, Pietro still feels miniscule to Bruno, as he feels like he never lived to be the man that he wanted to be. Both men reunite again, only to find Bruno is now married with a daughter, and their marriage seems to be on the verge of collapsing due to financial issues after Bruno took out a huge bank loan for his property. Bruno’s stubbornness in trying to find work outside the farm during the winter season only made the financial problems severely worse.

The Eight Mountains | Haifa 39th International Film Festival Courtesy Janus Films 

This may seem like a simplistic story about friendship, but the emotions remain genuine throughout. As much a statement on longing as it is a tale of friendship. The two leads, Marinelli (see him as the title character in Martin Eden) as Pietro and Borghi as Bruno, deliver a lot of earned pathos with their emotionally vulnerable roles. Between Marinelli’s determination in transforming himself into a better person and Borghi’s stoic demeanor and stubbornness to maintain his pride and dignity, there is something many of us emphasize—the need to evolve—and these two men’s powerful performances end up matching the ravishing imagery and breathtaking camera work by cinematographer Ruben Impens.

At times, the story may hint at being sentimental, but the duo of filmmakers Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch deliver a dramatically rich journey about two men who mend a decades-long tension between them. While epiphanies and lessons are found along the journey, it’s an unfeigned odyssey that is determined to define what true friendship means between human beings.

The Eight Mountains is now show in limited theaters