Sundance 2023: The Eight Mountains, by David Bax
Despite a hefty (and, make no mistake, well-earned) running time approaching two and a half hours, Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch‘s The Eight Mountains wastes no time establishing the close boyhood friendship (not to be confused with the boyhood friendship in Lukas Dhont‘s putrid Close, currently bespoiling theaters) between Pietro and Bruno (eventually played in adulthood by Luca Marinelli and Alessandro Borghi, respectively). Maybe it’s just the fact that they’re Italian but the mismatched pair (in this case, city boy and country boy) made me think of 2021’s Luca, easily the best Pixar film in years.
As suggested by the title, much of the move takes place in the high elevation of the Italian Alps. In the same way that Westerns often use a scope frame to highlight their wide vistas, van Groeningen and Vandermeersch opt for a boxy 1.33:1 frame to emphasize the height of the peaks. It lends a classical feel to The Eight Mountains, even as the film navigates the terrain with the use of more modern techniques like a Steadicam.
There’s a significant portion of The Eight Mountains that has to do with the building of a cabin. Here, van Groeningen and Vandermeersch engage in one of my pet obsessions in cinema, the detailing of process. With the narration to help us along, it’s the kind of movie that makes me think I could also fashion a mountain cabin from the ground up and might actually want to.
This is Vandermeersch’s first credit as a director but she was also co-writer on van Groeningen’s 2012 film The Broken Circle Breakdown. Like that film, The Eight Mountains gets into some pretty heartbreaking territory (though nothing quite on the same level; I mean, Christ, The Broken Circle Breakdown is high in the running for the title of saddest movie I’ve ever seen). Fortunately, unlike van Groeningen’s detour into American prestige filmmaking, 2018’s eye-roller Beautiful Boy, this one restores the warmth and humanity that makes the sadness hit even harder.
The Broken Circle Breakdown was about two people who love each other but who are unavoidably torn apart by circumstances. The Eight Mountains tells a similar story but with slightly more optimism. It’s a film that says that alone or together, at home or abroad, everyone has to find themselves at their own pace. It’s your best friends who will wait for you to catch up if they have to.