Wednesday, May 24, 2023

Men with mountains to climb

    A novelistic story about two friends, The Eight Mountains focuses on Pietro who we first meet as an 11-year-old boy whose mother takes him to the Italian Alps to escape the summer heat of Turin.
    The story, which begins in 1984, follows Pietro’s life into his 40s, charting his on-again/off-again friendship with Bruno, who enters the movie as a wild child of the mountains.
   Father/son themes underlie the story. As a boy,  Pietro can’t quite meet the expectations of his father (Filippo Timi,) an engineer who works in a factory but prides himself on his mountaineering skills. Timi's character is tied to his job, enjoying only occasional visits to the Acosta Valley, beautifully rendered by cinematographer Ruben Impens.
    The adult Pietro narrates the story, which may remind some of the work of Elena Ferrante, whose My Brilliant Friend charted a life-long friendship between two women.
   Early on, the movie has the feel of a boyhood idyll as Pietro and his new friend Bruno play and explore the mountains. Bruno, the last child in the depopulated rural village, lives with an aunt and uncle. 
    As time progresses, we learn that Pietro doesn’t want to be like his father, a conflict that seems to involve a son’s disdain for a father who sacrificed his true calling for a workaday life. Dad failed to give full vent to his yearning for connection with the natural world.
   The adolescent friendship between Pietro and Bruno hits a snag when Pietro, the beneficiary of class privileges unavailable to Bruno,  objects to his parents offer to bring  Bruno to Turin for schooling. Pietro argues that school and the city will corrupt Bruno's free-spirited nature. Or maybe he's jealous because Bruno, by temperament, might be the son his dad wished he had.
    The cast does a fine job of conveying the passage of time. Lupo Barbiero and Cristiano Sassella play Pietro and Bruno as boys. Andrea Palma and Francesco Palombelli take over during the adolescent years, and Luca Marinelli and Alessandro Borghi, make dominant impressions playing the friends as adults.
     After a 15 -year pause in their friendship, the men reunite when Pietro's father passes away. Pietro learns that his father left him a pile of rubble on a mountain where he planned to build a home.  Pietro and Bruno  join forces to build the house, which becomes a touchstone from which each man’s life unfolds. 
   Pietro becomes a world traveler and writer, eventually finding a place in Nepal.  Bruno tries his hand at farming. He marries becomes a father, makes cheese, and upholds the agrarian virtues that he sees as his natural calling -- until a lack of business skills undermines his efforts and leads to tragedy.
  Directors Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch, working from a novel by Paolo Cognetti,  might have done more to sharpen the movie's themes. They move slowly, sometimes skipping transitional material, thus giving the movie a vaguely episodic feel. 
   Still, The Eight Mountains becomes a moving story about  the bond between two men who sometimes are kindred spirits and who, even when compelled by qualities that push them apart, remain bound to each other. 

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