Co-adapted by directors Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch from Paolo Cognitti’s book by the same name, The Eight Mountains (2023) is a masterful study of human relationships and the idea of seeking and finding a home in this world. It follows two friends, Pietro (played by Luca Marinelli) and Bruno (played by Alessandro Borghi), who bond when Pietro and his family are visiting the village of Grana one summer. While Pietro grows up to leave his house, Bruno, taken away by his father to do construction work alongside him, keeps in touch with Pietro’s parents over the years.
The two friends meet after more than a decade and decide to build themselves a house on the mountain over the summer, a token of their friendship. Their lives intersect, entangle, and move apart to form their own human-shaped existences in the world, but their friendship ties them to the house, and to each other, till the very end. This gorgeous film comes bearing the promise of a bitter-sweet tale of friendship and leaves you feeling heartbroken with existential angst. Its biggest advantage is the slow, steady, and unhurried storytelling that allows us to fully immerse ourselves in the coolness of the mountain breeze and the lives of the respective characters to be able to fully sympathize with them.
In one of the scenes, after Pietro discovers that his father and his childhood friend, Bruno, have been going on treks all the time when he was away from home, he tells his mother that the fate of those who leave their familial surroundings is such that others around them start to live without them. It addresses one of the most fundamental pangs of existential human thoughts – the idea of human life continuing its cycle even after one’s permanent absence, death.
Looking at human life through that keyhole would render its insignificance to the thinker. Perhaps keeping in mind this quintessential triviality of human life in the grand scheme of things, the backdrop of this movie, the towering hero of almost every scene, and the boon, as well as the bane, of Pietro and Bruno’s existences is formed by the Alpine and the Himalayan mountain ranges.
The shots are framed from a distance, allowing the viewer to soak in the majestic views of the mountains in all their seasonal glories – summer, spring, and winter – while a singular or a handful number of people trek along its surface. This stresses the inconsequentiality of human existence, forcing the viewers to constantly acknowledge their mortality against the world’s ebb and flow.
The motivation that primarily drives Pietro and Bruno through their lives is the simultaneous inability and ability to find themselves at home. Pietro evidently struggles to understand where he belongs and what he likes to do. He knows only one thing – Bruno may be the better of the two because he is more outdoor-ready and knows where his heart lies. To fathom himself and seek a better understanding of himself in the world, he is driven from the Alpine ranges in Italy to the Himalayas in Nepal.
Bruno, on the other hand, has always felt so much at peace with being in the mountains and their pastures that he is unable to look and live beyond its periphery. His life is on the verge of disintegration because he believes that the mountains could never hurt him. The characters of the two best friends, acting as foils to one another, are ultimately concerned with the singular question of finding themselves a home in the world, even in the most unlikely circumstances.
There is also a hint that Pietro and Bruno are influenced by their individual upbringings. For example, it is Bruno’s lifelong association with the mountain as he was growing up in Grana that he finds familiar and comforting. At the same time, Pietro’s Turin-influenced childhood makes him more of a wanderer, someone who is stuck in the limbo between the city and nature in his search for comfort.
There is no queer subtext in their friendship, although it could be read via the lens of homosociality. It also focuses so much on the protagonists that the women characters are shoved to the fringes of the plot. I could overlook its bare-minimum flaws just because it takes the idea of stoic masculinity and molds it with tenderness to comment on the human condition itself. Overall, The Eight Mountains (2022) has the power to hold your attention in its careful folds despite its 150 minutes-long runtime.