Our house. In the middle of nowhere

MEN at work: Bruno (left) (Alessandro Borghi) and Pietro (Luca Marinelli) finish the mountain house that was Bruno’s father’s dream, in The Eight Mountains, on the European Film Festival South Africa, from 12 October 2023.

WE LIVE IN a world that can be so majestic to behold, it is like a religious experience all by itself, overwhelming and oft terrifying in its mix of wisdom, beauty and danger. Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeesch have created a masterpiece which blends exquisite cinematography and epic narrative in The Eight Mountains that features on this year’s European Film Festival, which is online and at cinemas in Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban, between 12 and 22 October, in eSwatini between 20 and 22 October and Lesotho between 26 and 28 October.

Premised on an understanding of the universe as being embraced by a core of mountains, the work focuses on a young couple with one child, who come and stay at a holiday home in the mountains. They’re from Turin. He’s an engineer. The boy, Bruno, is on the cusp of adolescence. And it is there where they meet another boy, Pietro, who is the same age, give or take a month, as Bruno. Pietro describes himself as the last child in the village.

So begins a friendship that evokes Aesop’s fable The Town Mouse and the Country Mouse, with three-dimensional nerve-ends and a deep and human twist. Bruno is bored with his life in Turin and the romance of mountain air is like a heady drug. Pietro has a yen to be in the mountain forever. He is hardened against literature and numbers, and nature is stripped of idiosyncrasy and whimsy for him. The friendship between Bruno and Pietro is cemented with the unrelenting presence of the landscape as well as tears and dreams, resentment and loss, and the complicated joy of being alive in the world. It’s about making cheese and writing; doing what makes your heart sing without thinking about whether or not you are good enough to do it.

But this is no benign love story about beautiful mountains and good boys who remain friends forever. It’s also, like Hermann Hesse’s classic novel Narcissus and Goldmund, a piece that pivots on pragmatics and the changing face of friendship through misperceptions, loves lost and gained, and money. It’s about dreams secreted in lonely places and an understanding of oneself in a place of perplexity, to say nothing of the slippery business of empathy when your life is taking happy turns, but your best friend is drowning.

Like the whole bouquet of films on this year’s festival, it embraces a theme of transformation, but this one will transform you as much as it will tell of transformation in fictional characters. Above all, try to watch this in the huge darkness of a movie theatre, rather than online. And prepare to be haunted by those unbelievable panoramic views.

  • The Eight Mountains is directed by Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch and features a cast headed by Iris Barbiero, Lupo Barbiero, Alessandro Borghi, Gualtiero Burzi, Paolo Cognetti, Daniela de Pellegrin, Emrik Favre, Adriano Favre, Leandro Gago, Cheche Gurung, Wangdi Gurung, Chiara Jorrioz, Elena Lietti, Luca Marinelli, Elisabetta Mazzullo, Dagny Mjos, Fiammetta Olivieri, Eric Olsen, Andrea Palma, Francesco Palombelli, Surakshya Panta, Benedetto Patruno, Stefano Percino, Aurora Pernici, Ermes Piffer, Alex Sassella, Cristiano Sassella, Marco Spataro, Filippo Timi and Elisa Zanotto. Written by Charlotte Vandermeersch and Felix van Groeningen based on the 2016 novel Le Otto Montagne by Paolo Cognetti, it is produced by Hans Everaert, Lorenzo Gangarossa, Mario Gianani and Louis Tisné and features creative input by Daniel Norgren (music), Ruben Impens (cinematography), Nico Leunen (editing), Francesco Vedovati (casting), Massimiliano Nocente (production design) and Francesca Brunori (costumes). In Italian with English subtitles, it is part of the 10th European Film Festival South Africa, screening at The Zone in Rosebank Johannesburg, The Labia in Cape Town, Gateway in Durban and online from 12-22 October, with satellite programmes in eSwatini from 20-22 October and in Lesotho from 26 to 28 October.

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