top of page
  • Writer's picturePerrin Faerch

Review: The Eight Mountains (2023)

Spanning over a few decades, The Eight Mountains is an intimate epic about friendship, the ones we take for granted and how both the loss and regaining of said relationships send us down the path we were always meant for. Pietro (played primarily by Luca Marinelli in his adult years), an 11-year old boy from the city, meets the only other kid his age, Bruno (played primarily by Alessandro Borghi in his adult years), in a sleepy, sparsely populated mountain village where his family escape from the confines of the city. After many years of not seeing one another, through their love of the great outdoors, the mountains and their relationship with Pietro’s father Giovanni (Filippo Timi), their paths reunite to build a cottage – a place for personal introspection and rediscovery.

For the past few years, or maybe even longer than that, I’ve been at odd inroads in my life. Although I’m not entirely off the path I so badly wanted to be on, I’m also not quite barrelling down the center of the track. I’m exploring various avenues and corners I find myself not necessarily attracted to or envisioned for myself but feel are safer and necessary routes in achieving whatever it is I’m trying to achieve with my passions. It’s easy to get complacent and in my journey in wanting to become a filmmaker, a storyteller, etc. I’ve been hit with many confidence killers. It’s been ebbing and flowing and although my current trajectory has allowed me to gain some sort of control in where I can somewhat steer the ship of my own destiny, my brain won’t allow me to accept it as the definitive answer in my life journey, or at least the one I pictured for myself all those years ago, scribbling stories in my little books. Naturally, I still have major doubts of whether I am on the right path at all and if this isn’t the right path, how long have I been on the wrong one, and just when will I find the right one? I’ve wanted to be many things. An F1 driver, a football star, a comic book artist, but for the longest time ever, it’s always rounded back to movies. Whether it is writing about them like I am now or making them, my path is still yet to be defined. Now what point am I trying to make, you may ask? Well, despite The Eight Mountains being about mountain men and men desiring nothing more than to become those mountain men, it’s a film that allows you to take a step back and regain the focus in your life, one that wants you to look over the fine details in your own story, to revaluate the relationships and personal conflict we need to overcome and reconnect with in order for us to regain that spark in life - to finally restoke the fire that may have dimmed along the way; and if it’s gone out completely, how we can look to rebuild it once more one stick and log at a time.

“It’s absurd how one finds one’s place in the world in the most unpredictable ways you can imagine”.

Pietro is one such person. As mentioned before, The Eight Mountains spans over the course of a couple of decades. And through this time, we follow his journey. We see an 11-year old kid who falls in love with the great outdoors, particularly the grand mountains. Here, he befriends another 11-year old (the youngest person in the village) in Bruno, untarnished by the stress of modern living with only his knowledge of this tiny one-horse town and the rocky skyline as his begin and end all. Pietro hates the city, and if he could, he would stay here forever. His parents would too, but the responsibilities, although unfair in the context of what modern living has done to the sanity of humanity, forces them to have to call the city their first home. “But you hate the city!” Pietro yells at his mother. “We don’t hate the city”, she responds. But he doesn’t quite understand what she means by this, after all, life as an 11-year old is just so much simpler. And although they aren’t necessarily upper class, their privilege allows them to visit from the city to the mountains, whereas Bruno’s lack of privilege will eventually force him to leave his once thriving childhood home like all others have had to do before him, including his now completely absent father, and seek work in a city somewhere. Pietro doesn’t quite understand this yet, and while his privilege allows for his passion, the mountains, to be as clear as day, he doesn’t quite understand the sacrifices and, well, realities of what it means to be an adult with growing responsibilities they cannot abandon entirely. At least not yet. We really do take for granted how free we were when we were 11-years old. And although our vision of the world at this age, particularly those of us blessed with a sense of privilege provided by hard-working parents, is masked by a naïve sense of wonder and vision, it’s also startling in the truth it exposes. Why can’t it be as simple as just staying in the mountains? Why can’t we just pack up and go? Is this just naivety or an untarnished vision of what the truth should and must be for our lives? Why can’t I be that F1 driver? Why can’t I be that comic book artist? Why can’t I be that hotshot director making movies? Why can’t Pietro and his family just stay here? And although we are the masters of our own fate, sometimes these divine visions of our future just cannot come to pass. It’s up to us to decide if we will dwell and wallow in not having it, or find alternative means to regain our grasp on achieving the life we so desire.

As we go deeper into the film, Bruno is forced to venture into the city. Pietro is completely opposed to this, worried that the city will trap his soul much like it has his parents. Pietro begins to resent his father in particular for championing this suggestion. As all three of them have a complete love for the peaks, it is Bruno who stays loyal and true to not only the advice of Giovanni, but his presence - he’s the father he never had and as Pietro begins to defy his father’s duties, advice and guiding hand, Bruno becomes the son which Giovanni should’ve had in Pietro. It’s an interesting scenario in that Pietro has experienced two different versions of his father: the one he admires who lives in the mountains – a man unafraid of adventure, of embracing the unexplored paths the mountain continues to offer and being who they feel they always have beem. Then there’s the city man, drowning in stress and the responsibilities he needs to adhere to in order to provide a life of freedom and most importantly, choices for Pietro. There’s a scene where Pietro is fighting with his dad, he is determined to drop out of college so he can focus on making documentaries and writing full time. But his dad, understandably, pushes back. At this point in their lives, now teenagers on the verge of adulthood, Pietro and Bruno don’t see each other anymore, except in passing. While Pietro is blessed with the opportunities of education that could open wider avenues into his careers and life, Pietro is limited to labouror jobs. “Just finish it, then you can do whatever you want” (paraphrasing here, sorry). But Pietro, with his irrational and impatient teenage brain, doesn’t want to be bogged down by the city, by the responsibilities that have turned this man into the one who stands before him – chained down by what the city asks of its prisoners. He refuses to admit to the inevitabilities of life, that in order for him to truly indulge in the potential spiritual wealth of his future, he needs to go down an expected path in order to link up with the one he really wants to be on.

It’s something most of us can relate to. We want everything now. We feel that we are right in that moment. I’ve been guilty of it. Why do I need to do x, y and z if I’m never going to use it? Just how often do people look at your diploma or certificate (in my experience, absolutely no one does)? And just like that, you are neglecting yourself from the important little things that will eventually allow you to be the things you dream of being. To quote Tom Haverford speaking to Jean Ralphio in Parks and Recreation: “Sometimes you gotta work a little, to ball a lot”. And just like that, Pietro pushes himself away from all those that brought him to the mountain and could potentially keep him there - he ends up living a life of mediocrity with the odd job here and there, causing for his confidence in the dreams of becoming a great writer and documentarian disappearing from his vision. Now I’m not saying all relationships, either with a parent or a friend, are beneficial to one’s journey and outcome. Sometimes, they’re toxic to your journey, but in this film’s case, it wants you to look at the ones that allowed you to feel such passion, the ones that wanted to nurture them in order for you to become that person you so desire to be, and most importantly, shows the need to strike a balance between the both responsibility and interest, creating internal and external conflicts for both Pietro and Bruno as they grow older.

“It’s absurd how one finds one’s place in the world in the most unpredictable ways you can imagine”.

Once again, this quote from the film allows for the stars to align. Through situations outside of both Bruno and Pietro’s control, their lives are reunited once more. Bruno is back in the mountains, sporting a full beard, with Pietro visiting once more, in possession of his own mountain man beard. They reconnect once again through not only their love of the mountains, but through their different relationships shared with Giovanni, someone who would spawn two very different ideas of what a father is to them. It’s within this phase, one that makes up around 70% of the film’s run-time that turns The Eight Mountains into such a revelation for me. As mentioned before, I’ve often felt stuck in my life journey and its through my relationships, whether severing them or going back to work hard on others, that will allow me to regain my sense of purpose and find balance when I so often feel at a loss for what I’m meant to do or better yet, what I actually want to do. Wanting and needing something are often not mutually exclusive, at least in definition. One is essential while the other is merely desire, but in terms of human happiness and the fulfillment of our souls, there comes rare occasions where what we want and what we need are indeed mutually exclusive. Want vs. need are determining factors in a character’s journey in pretty much any form of narrative. What they want drives their goals for two acts of the film with often irrational, surface-level desires that aren’t really beneficial to them. It’s with the need, an unconscious need of which our protagonist is unaware of for most of his journey, finally comes to fruition in the final third. It all finally makes sense when they realize what they need is not actually what they want, and this is often where characters ultimately reach the climax of their journey - the pivotal character arc that will now define them as a new person going forward. In The Eight Mountains, this revelation strangely arrives before the halfway mark of the film, and although it’s not immediate in its effect on our protagonist in Pietro, it’s that rare mutually exclusive pairing of his want and need coming together to help him on his way. That’s why The Eight Mountains feels so real in that it doesn’t follow this traditional timeline as you’d expect from a movie. They don’t wait for this light bulb moment to arrive in the last 20 minutes of the film, but long before that, and it works because of its message and delivery. Sure, it follows the rules of setting internal and external conflict throughout, but at its heart, it’s a spiritual journey of enlightenment that feels as though it’s happening in real-time much like it would in real life.

At 2 hours and 27 minutes, The Eight Mountains is a film that would need to be careful in how they reveal these key moments of character introspection that push each of them towards new equilibriums or the rediscoveries of their true selves. Sure, it has the luxury of time at its disposal to well, take its time in reaching these conclusions, but in the wrong hands, its subject matter could tread the line of becoming hokey and corny with the messages it wants and needs to convey. Thankfully, Belgian filmmaking duo Felix van Groeningen (Beautiful Boy) and Charlotte Vandermeersch (actress and screenwriter, directing for the first time with her real-life long-term romantic partner) have such great instincts that allow The Eight Mountains to blossom as organically as possible on screen. It’s smartly written (adapted from the novel of the same name by Paolo Cognetti) with the highest sense of consideration and nuance for not only the characters’ stories but their own as well, allowing for their own experiences with self-discovery to drive every frame toward the conclusion each of its characters, particularly Pietro, deserve. And even then, they don’t make the obvious choices in how they approach the subject matter, opting for the Academy Ratio (1:37:1, a square box, essentially) instead of an expected wide aspect ratio of 2:35:1 that would take in more of the truly astonishing world in which these characters find themselves being a part of. By going for the boxed-in look, it allows for the intimacy of The Eight Mountains to reach more meaningful and touching heights. The mountains still occupy most of the backdrop, but it allows us to really be right there with these characters in their spiritual and physical states, sparring with their emotions as they come to terms with fate’s insistence on bringing them all back together.

The cast at the center of The Eight Mountains needs to be of such a high caliber in order to convey the nuances and instincts of its writing in the raw, natural beauty of its world. Luca Marinelli who plays adult Pietro, a role which takes up most of the film’s running time is thoughtful and beautifully realized, bringing a level of gentleness that is always present and always personal. It feels real because he makes us believe it with such ease. Marinelli has fast become one of my favourite performers working right now, with 2020’s Martin Eden, in particular, showcasing the sheer force of his range and abilities, a performance that was also my favourite of that year and one that earned him Best Actor at Venice in 2019. The Eight Mountains doesn’t demand as much as that did from Marinelli from a physical and psychological standpoint, but what this asks for is more nuance, more subtlety from him as his character chooses to mostly hide the feelings he is at first trying to keep at bay, but is now trying to find ways in how to best communicate them, a task that will allow him to reflect on his errors and embrace his new mindset going forward in order to finally be free. After all, one of the major characteristics that permeate through the male counterparts within The Eight Mountains, is that they don’t quite know how to truly express themselves to one another. The lack of communication with one another and even themselves pushes each character to take long, needless detours to their final destinations. Both Marinelli and his equally phenomenal scene partner in Borghi are able to translate and interpret the carefully written subtext of the screenplay to stunning effect. The film may have its canvas dominated by the breathtaking mountains and nature of northern Italy, but it’s with these characters that allow for each rock, blade of grass and snowy peak to really come alive and let its warm heart at the center beat into life. Pair that all of that with the gorgeous folk music of its soundtrack compiled of Swedish singer-songwriter Daniel Norgren, you are left with an experience that feels both grand deeply intimate.

The Eight Mountains is a resoundingly beautiful film. Its spectacular photograph may initially hog the attention, but it’s van Goreningen and Vandermeersch’s layered, deeply personal screenplay and the nuanced performances of its leading men in Luca Marinelli and Alessandro Borghi that lets The Eight Mountains be more than just its location. It’s an epic tale of family, friendship, fate and most importantly, self-discovery and self-rediscovery. It reminds us of all the nooks and crannies that makes us who we are, demanding that we revisit ourselves and the relationships around us in order to reignite the passions that once kept our flames burning so bright. It could’ve been a cheesy, faith-based hallmark movie about rediscovering life, but thankfully it’s anything but, making The Eight Mountains a potentially life-changing viewing experience that is tuned to the very maximum of what great cinema can do. It’s simply one of the year’s best.

Where you can watch it: The Criterion Channel (August 22nd, USA), Most VOD Platforms (UK), available to purchase on Bluray and DVD (UK).

Recent Posts

See All


Commenting has been turned off.
Post: Blog2_Post
bottom of page