Cannes 2022: Exploring 'The Eight Mountains' with Luca Marinelli
by Alex Billington
May 19, 2022
"It's not the mountain we conquer, but ourselves." –Sir Edmund Hillary. Mountains are mystical, magical, and extraordinary. Some people are born in the mountains, and they never leave, unable to step away from them. Some people are born in the mountains, and leave to find their place elsewhere, yet always longing to return. Those who are drawn to their poetic majesty never forget their grandeur and immensity no matter where they are on this planet. One of the best films from the 2022 Cannes Film Festival so far is The Eight Mountains, an Italian feature (originally Le Otto Montagne) co-directed by Belgian filmmakers Felix van Groeningen (director of The Broken Circle Breakdown, Belgica, and Beautiful Boy) and Charlotte Vandermeersch. It's another breathtaking, slow burn story about men and mountains. It takes its time, following boys growing into men as two friends navigate the cliffs, passages, and snowy peaks of their lives.
This extensive two-and-a-half-hour film is indeed a poetic and moving tale about mountains - they are the main character even though the rest of the story follows two men throughout their lives. It's soulful, stirring storytelling on a grand scale. The opening act of the film initially plays out like a perfect live-action version of Pixar's Luca, introducing us to Pietro and Bruno as boys. They meet in a small mountain village, and spend time together traversing the mountainside and going on treks with Pietro's father. He brings them to mountaintops and awe-inspiring vistas. Much like in Pixar's wonderful Italian tale of friendship, Luca, each one of the boys has a different personality, but they quickly become friends and learn to navigate as they climb and discover and swim and explore. It's a formative part of their lives and so much of it is endearing to watch. Eventually they go their own ways, only reconnecting many years later when they are grown men.
For those that don't already know, I love mountains. I adore them. So it goes without saying that it's obvious I loved this film, too. The Eight Mountains instantly joins the ranks of the best mountain films ever made. It's not even a debate. Every. Single. Shot. Is. Stunning. Some of the best mountain cinematography I have ever seen in any film, thanks to the remarkably hard work of cinematographer Ruben Impens. Someone could make an entire documentary about how they made and photographed this film - there's a number of jaw-dropping mountain shots that I don't even know how they got them. The film also utilizes an especially moving score and music selection from Daniel Norgren, a Swedish singer-songwriter who sings in English in his tracks in this film. It reminded me of the way Luca Guadagnino perfectly utilizes the Sufjan Stevens tracks in his masterpiece Call Me By Your Name - these songs have that same kind of mystical vibe in here.
After spending time with Pietro and Bruno as kids, the rest of The Eight Mountains follows their stories as adults. Luca Marinelli stars as Pietro, an explorer who never stops roaming, and can't settle; Alessandro Borghi co-stars as Bruno, the quiet one who never leaves his own mountain, always working there. We get to understand each one of them and what makes them different - which is important because this is a story about growing up, learning about ourselves, and exploring our own paths in our lives. They're friends and they remain friends, but they each go through good times and bad times, and they each follow their dreams, wherever they make take them. Of course, being a mountain movie about mountain boys, the film eventually makes its way the Himalayas in Nepal. That's about when I knew this film was made for me, as someone who has taken that exact same journey. Everyone who adores mountains must one day visit the Himalayas.
This film completely swept me off my feet in the way going up in the mountains only can. There's something mystical about the way it moves so slowly, similar to the way glaciers move so slowly on mountains. It's also deeply connected to the way mountains themselves are massive, silent, enduring monuments of stone. They don't speak, but they do speak deeply to us; and even the quiet, slow parts of this film speak as loudly as mountains do on their quietest days, too. It's also so touching to watch these kids grow up, to see a story that spans decades and speaks in its own way about the paths we take in our own lives. I have already found my thoughts drifting back to this film often, to many of these quiet moments, the so-beautiful-it-will-make-you-teary-eyed cinematography. Even if I don't know what to say, I know the film has left an impression on me that may lead me down other paths in my life as well. Let the mountains guide us to a better tomorrow…