THE EIGHT MOUNTAINS (2022) is an ode to the beauty of male friendship

Adapting Paolo Cognetti’s novel, The Eight Mountains (Le Otto Montagne) begins with an ode to friendship and expands to a love of life in the face of being pulled away from what we love.


Adapting Paolo Cognetti’s novel, The Eight Mountains (Le Otto Montagne) begins with an ode to friendship and expands to a love of life in the face of being pulled away from what we love.

We follow Pietro, a young boy (Lupo Barbiero) who is staying in the breath-taking Aosta Valley (given the fictional name ‘Grana’, in the film) over the summer, as he does every year. He lives a lonely childhood until one day he is introduced to Bruno (Cristiano Sassella), the only other boy in the village. From there, we watch their friendship flourish, running through luscious forests and playing with the local animals, trekking with Pietro’s father up to the snowy peaks and swimming in the lake below. It is nothing short of a blissful, rich life that we get taken along for, all until it comes to an end as autumn dawns and Pietro must return to the congested city life for school until the following year. Pietro and Bruno’s friendship remains closely bound together through Grana despite their lives apart–their time together is a refuge from life for each of them. Over the next couple of decades, different family circumstances separate the young boys, until we are reintroduced to their friendship as adults. Both grow up into bearded, tough-looking men but both are gentle and vulnerable, clouded by an emotional world that they cannot reveal. Now adults, Bruno (Alessandro Borghi) takes Pietro (Luca Marinelli) up the mountain where an old ruin lies and invites him to rebuild it with him. Although hesitant with his lack of experience, Pietro agrees, and they embark on creating what will be their own summer house, nestled in the mountain face overlooking what they know intimately. 

Starting with the young actors who play Pietro and Bruno in their childhood, we are completely brought into the escape that their friendship and the environment allows. As the summers roll over, we also get glimpses into what will be the differences between them, and in turn, characterise what they will long for as decades go on. Bruno is strong in his physical and spiritual self; being deeply tied to his ancestral roots in Grana and the joy the mountains brought in his childhood, he wants nothing else but to be anchored there for the rest of his life. Pietro is strong as well, but slightly less so, and feels a deep connection with the land, but swept up with what the rest of the world had to offer. As children, while Bruno generally excelled at any task he was given, with confidence that gave him a fearlessness among the mountains, Pietro watched and followed. But their power dynamic never led to a climactic falling out never to be repaired. Just as their (platonic) love for each other was hardly spoken, neither were their differences. Both melded to fuse a powerful friendship as such dynamics often cause–layered with perceptions of awe, insecurity, respect and questions of purpose, masculinity, impact of intergenerational history and familial connection to land.

It is a complex mix so beautifully performed by the actors that it doesn’t let the viewer just observe it. We are instead provoked to be a part of their world and confront the intangible sadness that results from what is left unsaid, as well as the profound connection that can come from quiet understanding in one another. You’d be right to think this sounds similar to films like Brokeback Mountain and Call Me By Your Name, but for this to be explored in male friendship is sadly scarce in film. Too frequently, portrayals of such male friendships seem fearful of delving into beauty; a complex, vulnerable relationship must be sexual (and usually, of course, heterosexual), while friendship is the dynamic outside of adulthood where men ‘get to’ be immature and devoid of responsibility. These norms evidently still exist in Pietro and Bruno’s world, and they are affected by them, unwilling to be open with their feelings, but the layers of their friendship still lay bare enough to represent a refreshingly nuanced dynamic.

Elevating the portrayal of their story is the film’s incredible cinematography, allowing for the slower parts of the film to still hold you wrapped in the scenery. Instead of taking an anamorphic scope that captures as much landscape as possible, their squarer 1.33:1 aspect ratio draws our attention to the full scale of the mountains and what is directly in front of us, not giving so much to look at that it becomes overwhelming or ungrounded. It is, instead, the perspective of Pietro and Bruno, where every tree is given time. As Bruno says at one point, it is not just ‘nature’ like the city-people diminish it to be, there are mountains, the lake, the forest, the rocks; there is so much life it cannot be narrowed down to one word. The soundtrack, composed by Daniel Norgen, takes on this depth with a gorgeous, synthy indie-folk approach. Piano with audible pressing of keys and pedal brings us into the nostalgic raw tone of the film, while his emotive vocals are subdued and repetitive, neatly complimenting the meditative intent of the visuals. Paired together with the story, we are swept into the Italian mountains whilst being asked to turn inwards, to reflect on our own relationships and environment, those cherished and those neglected.

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