The Eight Mountains: Bracing bromance slowly builds towards a sense of catharsis

A deserving winner at Cannes, this film is narratively conventional, overlong and occasionally tangential

The Eight Mountains
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Director: Felix van Groeningen, Charlotte Vandermeersch
Cert: 15A
Genre: Drama
Starring: Luca Marinelli, Alessandro Borghi
Running Time: 2 hrs 17 mins

A decade ago Felix van Groeningen’s The Broken Circle Breakdown became a genuine word-of-mouth hit, attracting a cult following among those who seldom darkened the door of a cinema, let alone for a French-language Belgian rockabilly-tracked melodrama.

The Eight Mountains, a bracing bromance directed by van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch, adapted from the novel by Paolo Cognetti, shares the same perversely pleasing misshapen qualities as its predecessor. (We’ll swipe left over the directing couple’s polished, strangely underwhelming Hollywood debut, Beautiful Boy.)

A deserving Jury Prize winner at Cannes, this new film is narratively conventional, overlong and occasionally tangential, but it builds slowly and meaningfully towards a sense of catharsis that’s as big as the elevations of the title.

The plot concerns the enduring friendship of Pietro and Bruno, who encounter each other at the age of 11 during the summer of 1984. Pietro is from Turin. His mother is a teacher and his father is an engineer. Adult life in the professional classes seems inevitable. During that early holiday Pietro’s family leases a dwelling in a hamlet in the Italian Alps. Bruno is the only other child in the remote, depopulated village. He wants to be a cheesemaker, but even after Pietro’s family offers to assist with the boy’s continuing education, Bruno’s father sends him to work in construction at the age of 13.


They meet again as adults, bonding over the restoration of an Alpine cabin purchased by Pietro’s late father. The slight, allegorical narrative is dwarfed by the scenery as Ruben Impens, who was also the cinematographer on Titane and The Mustang, picks up sublime tableaux. Much of the extensive run time is given over to magnificent drone shots and meandering sweeps across streams and meadows. Even more time is spent on building, cheesemaking and labour, as the two men busy themselves and distract from old emotional wounds.

At times The Eight Mountains could pass for such careful quasi-documentary reconstructions as Le Quattro Volte or Il Buco, offering cinema refashioned as meditative space. Happily, Luca Marinelli and Alessandro Borghi put in mountain-sized performances to offset the film’s silences and propensity for postcard shots, bringing heart and guts to the chilliest scenery. A worthwhile hike through many obstacles to friendship.

Tara Brady

Tara Brady

Tara Brady, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a writer and film critic