Review: ‘The Eight Mountains,’ starring Luca Marinelli, Alessandro Borghi, Filippo Timi, Elena Lietti, Elisabetta Mazzullo, Lupo Barbiero and Cristiano Sassella

August 23, 2023

by Carla Hay

Alessandro Borghi and Luca Marinelli in “The Eight Mountains” (Photo courtesy of Sideshow and Janus Films)

“The Eight Mountains”

Directed by Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch

Italian with subtitles

Culture Representation: Taking place in Italy, from 1984 to about 2014, the dramatic film “The Eight Mountains” (based on the novel of the same name) features an all-white cast of characters representing the working-class and middle-class.

Culture Clash: Two best friends from childhood drift apart when they become teenagers, and the reconnect as adults in their early 30s to rebuild a house, even though their lives have gone in different directions. 

Culture Audience: “The Eight Mountains” will appeal primarily to people who are interested in a well-acted movie about friendship, although the film’s 147-minute total running time might be an endurance test for some viewers.

Alessandro Borghi and Luca Marinelli in “The Eight Mountains” (Photo courtesy of Sideshow and Janus Films)

“The Eight Mountains” is both epic and simple in how it tells a very insular story of two close male friends from childhood to adulthood. The small number of people in the movie’s cast gives this drama enough room for meaningful character development. The movie’s total running time of 147 minutes is a little too long, but it’s worth watching as a character study for viewers who have the time to immerse themselves in this story.

Written and directed by Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch, “The Eight Mountains” had its world premiere at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival, where it won the Jury Prize. “The Eight Mountains” is based on Paolo Cognetti’s 2016 novel of the same name. The movie takes place primarily in a small, unnamed mountain village in Italy, where a friendship develops between two boys named Bruno Guglielmina and Pietro Guasti, who have different personalities. Bruno is stubborn and set in his ways. Pietro is more flexible and open-minded.

The movie, whose story is shown in chronological order, follows what happens to this friendship from 1984 to approximately 2014. Pietro is played as a child by Lupo Barbiero, as a teenager by Andrea Palma, and as an adult by Luca Marinelli. Bruno is played as a child by Cristiano Sassella, as a teenager by Francesco Palombelli and as an adult by Alessandro Borghi.

The narrator of “The Eight Mountains” is the adult Pietro, a world traveler in his 30s who gives voiceover reminiscences throughout the movie. In the opening scene, Pietro says, “I didn’t expect to find a friend like Bruno in my life, nor that friendship was a place where you put down roots that remain waiting for you. I grew up as an only child in an apartment in the city, and I wasn’t used to doing things together. But in the summer of 1984, my parents rented a house in a mountain village, where by a twist of fate at the time, lived only one child: Bruno.”

The movie then shows flashbacks to this friendship, beginning in 1984, the year that Pietro and Bruno meet, when they’re both around 11 years old. They have an instant rapport and develop a close friendship, no doubt feuled by the fact that they are the only two children in this village. In “Eight Mountains,” Bruno tell Pietro that the village used to have 183 residents but now has only 14 residents. People moved away because of there’s a lack of work in this isolated village.

Bruno lives with his aunt Sonia (played by Chiara Jorrioz) and his uncle Luigi (played by Gualtiero Burzi). Bruno tells Pietro that Bruno’s father works as a bricklayer in other countries and is currently working in Switzerland and Austria. When Bruno is asked where his mother is, he avoids answering the question. Later, Bruno says that his father hardly speaks to him. “I think he finds me irritating,” Bruno tells Pietro.

Pietro’s parents are Francesca Guasti (played by Elena Lietti) and Giovanni Guasti (played Filippo Timi), who are loving and devoted parents. Just like Bruno’s father, Giovanni spends a lot of time working away from home. Giovanni is a factory engineer with a job in Turin, Italy. Although Pietro spent his earliest years growing up in a city, he adjusts to rural life much easier because of his friendship with Bruno. Pietro and Bruno have such a close friendship, they treat each other like brothers.

A pivotal scene in the movie happens when Giovanni takes Bruno and Pietro out hiking with him when the land is covered in ice. They encounter a glacier and have to jump over a crevasse to continue the journey. Giovanni encourages both boys to jump. Bruno makes the jump, but Pietro feels sick and can’t do it. Giovanni comforts Pietro and tells him that he doesn’t have to jump. Giovanni, Bruno and Pietro then head back home. Giovanni leaves for Turin shortly thereafter to go back to work.

As an adult reflecting on his past, Pietro says in a voiceover that he will never forget that day. Viewers later find out that this day was when Pietro really saw for the first time that his father Giovanni was starting to see Bruno not only like a son but also like a son he might prefer over Pietro. Shortly after this experience on the glacier, Pietro’s parents suggest to Bruno’s aunt and uncle that Bruno live with them and Pietro in Turin. Pietro dislikes this idea because he says the city will “ruin” Bruno, who has lived in this village his entire life.

Pietro’s discomfort over Bruno possibly living with Pietro’s family in Turin isn’t just about Pietro being worried about how city life will affect Bruno. Pietro won’t say it out loud, but he’s also worried how Bruno living with Pietro and Pietro’s parents will permanently alter the family dynamics. Pietro also begins to suspect that his father Giovanni enjoys spending time with Bruno more than Giovanni enjoys spending time with Pietro. This jealously causes resentment that Pietro has toward Giovanni. At one point, Pietro tells Giovanni, “I never want to be like you.”

The issue of where Bruno will live causes so much tension and conflict in the Guasti family, the idea of Bruno living with the Guasti family in Turin is eventually dropped. And, at 13 years old, Bruno moves away from the village for the summer to work with his father in a mining job. As teenagers, Bruno and Pietro drift apart. There’s a scene in the movie where Pietro and Bruno see each other in a pub when they are both about 18 years old, but they treat each other like familiar acquaintances instead of two people who were once best friends. Pietro and Bruno won’t see or speak to each other again for the next 15 years.

The rest of “The Eight Mountains” shows how Bruno and Pietro led separate lives until they came back into each other’s lives in 2004, 20 years after they first met. Bruno and Pietro, who are about 31 years old at this point, are never-married bachelors with no children. Bruno has lived in the same mountain village where he spent his childhood.

By contrast, Pietro has spent much of his adulthood traveling and living in various places. Pietro has come back to the village because his father Giovanni died (at the age of 62), and Pietro has inherited an abandoned, run-down house called Barma Drola, which is located on a remote, hilly area in the village. Pietro and Bruno reconnect and decide to remodel the house together. None of this is spoiler information, since it’s shown in the trailer for “The Eight Mountains.”

The last third of the movie is about the remodeling of this house, which is an obvious symbol of Bruno and Pietro repairing and rebuilding their friendship. There’s also a lot of unresolved issues between them because Pietro was estranged from his father Giovanni for many years. Giovanni then became like a father figure to Bruno during the years that Pietro and Giovanni weren’t really speaking to each other. There’s also a woman named Lara (played by Elisabetta Mazzullo), who shows an attraction to Pietro and Bruno.

Marinelli capably handles his fairly straightforward role as Pietro. Borghi, who has the more complex character of Bruno, gives a riveting performance. Viewers will see that Bruno’s stubbornness can translate into obsessiveness. It’s a character trait that puts a big strain on his personal relationships. Meanwhile, during this remodeling, Pietro finds out from conversations with Bruno how much Pietro did not know about his father Giovanni, who grew close to Bruno during the years that Pietro was estranged from Giovanni.

Although “The Eight Mountains” has a story that could have been told in a movie that’s less that two hours, this well-acted drama at least gives quality time to character development. By the end of the movie, viewers will feel like they know who Bruno and Pietro are has fully formed human beings. Anyone expecting a lot of adventurous action in this film will be disappointed. “The Eight Mountains” is a very artistic presentation of masculine friendship that doesn’t involve guns, physical fighting, car chases or explosions. It’s about something that many people find much harder to handle than macho violence: expressing repressed emotions.

Sideshow and Janus Films released “The Eight Mountains” in select U.S. cinemas on April 28, 2023.

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