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.

Review: ‘The Old Guard,’ starring Charlize Theron

July 10, 2020

by Carla Hay

Marwan Kenzari, Matthias Schoenaerts, Charlize Theron, Luca Marinelli and Kiki Layne (Photo by Aimee Spinks/Netflix)

“The Old Guard”

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood

Culture Representation: Taking place in France, England and briefly in Morocco, Afghanistan and South Sudan, the action flick “The Old Guard” has a racially diverse cast (white, black and Asian) representing the middle-class and wealthy.

Culture Clash: Immortal social-justice warriors battle against a greedy corporate mogul and his mercenaries who want to capture the immortals so that their special powers can be mined for profits.

Culture Audience: “The Old Guard” will appeal primarily to fans of Charlize Theron and people who like extra-violent superhero movies with underlying social messages.

Charlize Theron in “The Old Guard” (Photo by Aimee Spinks/Netflix)

With so many superhero movies and TV shows flooding the market, what makes “The Old Guard” stand out from the pack is that morality and alliances aren’t always as cut-and-dry as they are in other superhero stories about good versus evil. Although there’s plenty of thrilling action in “The Old Guard,” what will keep audiences coming back for more are the protagonists’ distinct personalities and the feeling that their background stories have fascinating layers of extra intrigue.

Directed by Gina Prince-Bythewood and written by Greg Rucka (he adapted the screenplay from his “The Old Guard” graphic novel series), “The Old Guard” movie starts off by introducing a tight-knit group of four immortal social-justice warriors who have lived for centuries but play by their own rules. These immortals have the enigmatic ability to have any of their wounds heal quickly, which is why these fighters are virtually indestructible when they are physically attacked.

They don’t know how they got their superpowers and they don’t know when their superpowers will stop working. But they got these superpowers at some point in their lives when they were supposed to die but instead mysteriously recovered. They can feel pain when wounded, and someone who has these newly acquired superpowers will not be able to heal as quickly as someone who’s had these superpowers longer. Technically, these immortals aren’t really “immortal,” because they can’t live forever, but they have the ability to live for centuries.

All of this information is not explained up front in “The Old Guard” movie, but instead these details are revealed in bits and pieces, much like the personalities of main players involved. The group’s leader (and the one who’s lived the longest) is Andromache the Scythian, nicknamed Andy (played by Charlize Theron), a tough-as-nails cynic who’s more afraid of being exposed and captured than she is of dying.

Andy’s right-hand man in the group is Booker (played by Matthias Schoenaerts), an adventurous French soldier, who became an immortal during the War of 1812. Rounding out the quartet are lovers/soul mates Joe (played Marwan Kenzari) and Nicky (played by Luca Marinelli), a Middle Eastern man and an Italian man who became immortal while they were fighting on opposite sides of the Crusades. In this movie, Andy won’t say when she became immortal.

Booker is similar to Andy in having a certain jaded quality to his personality, but Booker is a lot more impulsive than Andy, who is always on guard about their group being exposed as immortals. Joe is more vocal and overtly passionate than Nicky, who tends to be more level-headed and sensitive. Together, they have been a “found family” for centuries.

Andy and her group make money as underground hired mercenaries for people or causes that they feel comfortable helping. While in Marrakesh, Morocco, a former CIA agent named James Copley (played by Chiwetel Ejiofor) asks the group to help him rescue a group of 17 South Sudanese students (ages 8 to 13), who were kidnapped by militia, who murdered the teachers in the school. At first, Andy doesn’t want to do the mission. “We don’t do repeats,” she tells Booker, “It’s too risky.”

However, Andy changes her mind after she Copley (a widower whose wife died of ALS) tells her that food and water have not ben brought into the hostage area for several days. Andy and her crew travel to South Sudan. And this rescue mission leads the immortals to find out that they’re being hunted by a nerdy but ruthless leader of a corporate pharmaceutical company: Steven Merrick (played by Harry Melling) of Merrick Pharmacy.

Merrick wants to capture all the known immortals on Earth, so Merrick’s team of scientists can figure out and extract that physical components that can heal wounds and make people live for centuries. Merrick thinks he’s in a race against time because he wants to get the patent on this superpower product before any of the company’s competitors. The ultimate goal? Untold wealth and power.

Merrick has also begun selling a new pharmaceutical product that caused thousands of lab rats to die, and this new product’s flaws will soon be discovered by the general public. If he can find the secret to these immortals’ regeneration powers, it can be used as an antidote to the faulty pharmaceutical product that Merrick rushed to market.

Meanwhile, the quartet of immortals begins having shared dreams of a young lieutenant in the U.S. Marines named Nile Freeman (played by KiKi Layne), who is currently stationed in Afghanistan. They’re certain that Nile is a long-lost immortal who doesn’t know it yet. While in Afghanistan, Nile is part of a military team that captures a known terrorist who’s hiding in a small village dwelling.

The terrorist slashes Nile’s throat in such a deep and vicious way that it seems obvious that Nile will die from that jugular wound. However, not only does she survive, but the wound mysteriously disappears. Nile explains to her incredulous fellow soldiers that doctors were able to cover up her neck wound with a “skin graft,” but even Nile knows how unbelievable that story sounds. People who thought she was going to die start to look at her differently, as if she’s some kind of supernatural freak.

As Nile is still trying to figure out why she seems to have regeneration superpowers, she’s told that she’s going to be transferred to another station for further medical exams. Before that can happen, Andy abducts Nile and takes her to a remote desert area. Andy tells a disbelieving Nile that Nile is now an immortal who has to go into hiding with Andy and her group of immortals because they are being hunted.

Nile is reluctant to go with this stranger, who tells Nile that she will have to cut off contact with her family. Nile is also having a hard time believing that she’s now immortal until some vigorous physical fights with Andy prove that Andy is telling the truth. But just like a stubborn pupil who won’t listen to a teacher who knows best, Nile clashes with Andy several times because Nile has a lot of difficulty adjusting to her new life.

During the course of the story, Nile opens up to Andy and the rest of the immortals, while they do the same with her. It’s revealed that Andy’s biggest heartache and regret is how she couldn’t save her best friend Quynh (played by Van Veronica Ngo) from being put in an iron lady cage and buried in the ocean about 500 years ago, when Andy and Quynh were captured and persecuted for being witches.

Meanwhile, Booker is haunted by outliving his children, one of whom was a son who died of cancer in his early 40s. When Booker told his terminally ill son about his secret superpower, Booker was heartbroken over not being able to share that superpower with his dying son, who angrily and wrongly blamed Booker for not being able to save him from death. It’s one of the reasons why Andy thinks it’s a mistake to get too close to any “regular” human who might find out the immortals’ secrets.

As for Nile’s family, she was raised by a widowed mother after Nile’s military father died in combat when Nile was 11 years old. Because Nile cannot contact her family after joining Andy’s group, Nile feels a lot of reluctance and emotional conflict about what her life will be like from now on.

“The Old Guard” has a lot of expected violence and over-the-top stunts (some of the action scenes are more believable than others), but the movie’s real strength is conveying the “grass is always greener” frailties of human nature. Merrick and many others just like him think that people will be happier if they will never get sick and can live for centuries, while the ones who actually have the ability to live that long see it as a curse.

Through the immortals’ perspectives, “The Old Guard” shows that living for centuries can be emotionally exhausting. Death (which is feared by so many people) is a natural part of life that they haven’t been able to experience, thereby making them “eternal freaks.” However, on the flip side—as exemplified by Joe and Nicky—if two immortals find each other and become soul mates, death isn’t as easily welcomed.

Unlike other immortal “superheroes,” the superheroes in this story don’t know how long they can keep their superpowers, which can fade and eventually disappear, much like how a battery eventually loses its power. It’s that added element of the unknown that keeps things on edge. (The movie’s visual effects for the body regeneration scenes are very good and very believable.)

Theron (who is one of the producers of “The Old Guard”) has done plenty of action movies before—most notably 2015’s “Mad Max: Fury Road” and 2017’s “Atomic Blonde”—so it’s no surprise that she can light up the screen with her commanding presence. Theron’s Andy character is the most intriguing of Theron’s action characters so far because Andy literally has centuries of stories to tell about her life. Layne does an impressive job of holding her own as Andy’s very reluctant protégée. It’s great to see Layne take on such a different role from her feature-film debut in 2018’s “If Beale Street Could Talk,” a heartbreaking drama in which she played a loyal girlfriend of a wrongly imprisoned man.

“The Old Guard” has grittiness and bloody violence that definitely don’t make this a family-friendly superhero movie. This is also a superhero movie that  acknowledges real-world historical issues. The Khmer Rouge genocide in Cambodia and the Civil War in the United States are two examples of the many history-making events that are referenced in this story, because these superhero soldiers were involved in some way in being on the right side of history.

And unlike most other superhero movies that don’t acknowledge homophobia in the world, “The Old Guard” has a scene where Joe and Nicky confront this bigotry in a way that will make romantics applaud. Joe and Nicky’s love story is one of the reasons why fans of this movie will want a sequel. And you better believe that the ending of “The Old Guard” makes it obvious that the filmmakers plan to make “The Old Guard” into a movie series.

This superhero saga might not satisfy people who want to know how the heroes got their superpowers. And these protagonists definitely aren’t saint-like: Their underground status means they often have to collaborate with criminals to get things done, such as in a scene where Andy and Nile use a Russian drug runner’s plane to get to where they need to go. But for people who might be intrigued by a story about warriors who are still trying to figure out their lives after living and fighting battles for centuries, “The Old Guard” offers an immersive experience into that world.

Netflix premiered “The Old Guard” on July 10, 2020.

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