Review: ‘The Eight Mountains’ is one of the best movies of the year

This year continues the tradition of exceptional foreign films with a beautiful new Italian film from directors Felix Van Groeningen, and Charlotte Vandermeersch called The Eight Mountains. Each and every year, there are plenty of foreign films released that end up being among my very favorite movies of the calendar year. Incredible filmmakers from across the globe are constantly delivering some of our best cinema. Last year, the Lukas Dhont film from Belgium, Close, and the Iranian film Holy Spider both made my personal top ten list. The year before, the Anders Thomas Jensen film Riders Of Justice from Denmark and in 2020, the Bosnian film Quo Vadis, Aida? were my second favorite films in their respective years.

For all the Discovery Channel lovers out there, this film’s destination is as gorgeous as they come. However, the film itself is slower paced, and the almost two-and-a-half-hour runtime will try the patience of some general audiences. At its core, this is a sentimental film about a platonic male friendship, akin to something like the A24 film First Cow, albeit with different character motivations and relationship dynamics. While this foreign film that’s almost entirely in spoken Italian won’t be as much of a general crowd-pleaser as it will be for cinephiles and critics, there’s really a wonderful piece of cinema waiting for anybody willing to climb The Eight Mountains.

The Story of The Eight Mountains

[Editor’s Note: Please note. There are spoilers ahead for The Eight Mountains.]

This voyage into the heart of the Italian Alps begins with a shot of a mountainside, and we hear a voice saying, “I didn’t expect to find a friend like Bruno in my life.” The shot changes to two tall pine trees growing right next to each other, their branches intertwined, almost like they’re embracing. At the same time, the voice tells us that in the summer of 1984, his parents rented a house in a mountain village where only one other little boy lived, as fate would have it. 

The Eight Mountains title opens white against black on the screen before giving us a beautiful shot of this small town nestled into the Italian hills and mountainsides. The camera soaks in the gorgeous landscapes as the stunning cinematography captures magnificent shots, one after the other, as we meet the mother, Francesca (Elena Lietti), and son, young Pietro Guasti (Lupo Barbiero), as they come to rent a house. Soon, Pietro encounters the other young lad, Bruno (Christiano Sassella), who comes over for breakfast the following morning. 

A tale sprung from going outside to explore

Soon, the two boys do what any other twelve-year-olds who don’t have the luxury TV or phone screens available do: they go outside and explore. They’re climbing into old buildings, running through hillside pastures, and trying to build a dam with sticks and rocks in a stream. But the summer ends, and then Pietro must return home to the city where his father works, he goes to school and the boys part ways. The Guasti family frequents the village, and the boys reunite semi-regularly as Pietro’s father, Giovanni (Filippo Timi), takes a liking to the numerous mountains surrounding the small town and begins expeditions, climbing the many scenic peaks.

As the film’s first act winds down, the movie jumps into the boy’s teen years, where Pietro gets angry with his father, tells him he doesn’t want to be like him, and there’s a bit of a falling out between the two. Another jump forward takes us into what we assume is the late 90s; the young boys are now fully bearded men and reconnect when Pietro (Luca Marinelli) goes to the village after his father passes, and he reunites with Bruno (Alessandro Borghi).

Pietro (Luca Marinelli) and Bruno (Alessandro Borghi). Image courtesy of Janus Films.


Bruno promises to fulfill Giovanni’s dying wish

We discover Pietro last spoke with his father over a decade ago, and in his absence, Giovanni and Bruno have connected and worked together on some projects but also spent time together trekking the peaks and mountains of the area. As a dying wish, Bruno promised to rebuild a decrepit old house way up in the mountains that Giovanni had purchased and left for his son. But as the house project gets underway, the two childhood friends reestablish their relationship. 

As the film moves into its second act, their friendship becomes the film’s focal point, and the house they construct throughout the summer provides a recurring visual reminder and stabilizing symbol of that friendship. The Eight Mountains mainly focuses on Pietro’s side of the journey and the pair’s friendship. We watch as he crosses paths with many reflective aspects of life, such as childhood memories, finding oneself, the pursuit of love, as well as regret and loss.

The Eight Mountains flourishes with screenplay and cinematography

Now don’t mistake me, this film won’t be for everyone. In some ways, it isn’t an outstanding feat of cinema; there are no special effects, no incredible production or sound design work, or various technical achievements. But it is outstanding in how it flourishes in the simplicity of certain aspects of filmmaking that it makes full use of. Two examples are its screenwriting and cinematography. 

To start with the story, the screenplay weaves a methodically drawn-out narrative that gradually builds momentum throughout the first act, truly coming into its own in the second act as it explores Pietro’s friendship and relationship with Bruno and some of the other characters. While the film’s pacing does meander a bit while it tries to get going, by the conclusion, the dynamics of the main character’s relationships completely captivate, somewhat similar to how A River Runs Through It does the same with its central protagonist as he recounts his life’s experiences. 

Gorgeous cinematography and visuals make The Eight Mountains pop

While letting us linger with these prolonged shots of the mountain’s beauty, the editing certainly could’ve been tightened up towards the beginning. Still, most of the film’s almost two-and-a-half-hour run was justified as the slower pacing fit well tonally with the film. As I mentioned several times, the cinematography and visuals are absolutely gorgeous again. Some of the shot compositions of the mountains are striking. In particular, there are a couple of drone shots of Pietro crossing a ridge line with snow-covered mountains behind him, and they are absolutely breathtaking shots. 

And although the film utilizes all unknown actors, at least to those of us here in the United States, they are doing some exceptional work. The two lead actors, Luca Marinelli and Alessandro Borghi, who soak up a majority of the screen time, are able to bring these characters, with all their flaws and imperfections and their sometimes troubled relationship, to life. This film made the rounds at film festivals over the last year and a half. But now it’s finally becoming available for the general public to view, so make it a point to seek out this film if you want a beautiful trip to the Italian Alps without the airfare.

Final thoughts on The Eight Mountains

Foreign films just don’t have the mainstream appeal that films in spoken English do. This is a shame because The Eight Mountains is one of the best movies of whichever year you count it towards, either 2022 or 2023. If you live in the U.S. and don’t have one, get a free week trial to the Criterion Channel to watch this film because, like me, anybody who cares to venture into The Eight Mountains might find exactly what they didn’t know they were looking for.

The Eight Mountains is now streaming

The Eight Mountains is now streaming on the Criterion Channel and available to purchase on both iTunes and Amazon.

You can view the trailer for the film here. 

Your thoughts

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