Critique “The Eight Mountains”: the Cannes mountain film by Felix Van Groenigen

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Cannes: The Belgian filmmaker goes further and purer than his previous works with the help of his partner Charlotte Vandermeersch.

Mount Meru, one of the highest mountains in the world, is surrounded by eight seas and eight mountains. It is considered by many to be the center of the universe – physically, metaphysically and spiritually. But it’s probably the hardest mountain to get to, and even harder to stay on. Would you make the move? Or would you like to see more as you explore its eight peaks and satellite waters? What if once up there, you still don’t feel complete? What will instead give meaning to your life?

Pietro (Luca Marinelli at his strongest physically and most complex and tender emotionally) keeps thinking about these questions. That’s all he wonders as he yearns for the mountains until summer comes and he can climb the Italian Alps again, with his father – desperately trying to figure out a son in which he doesn’t see himself – and his best friend, Bruno (Alessandro Borghi, this film’s hurricane heart and “Into The Wild” spirit guide.)

‘The Eight Mountains’ lovingly adapts Paolo Cognetti’s novel of the same name, a valentine to brotherhood and an ever-changing tale of self-discovery, resilience, nature and love – platonic but more steel than anything else. any rock you might climb – which somehow rarely feels like it’s just one step in the endless stream of films and literature capturing ever-changing yet enduring nature of all these things that we have just mentioned since time immemorial.

Belgian filmmaker Felix Van Groeningen goes further and purer than his previous works with the help of his partner Charlotte Vandermeersch who, after having played in several films by her husband, now co-writes and co-directs alongside him. There’s such affection in every frame, a levity (but never frivolity) where “The Broken Circle Breakdown” and later “Beautiful Boy” were so drowned out by the heartbreaking stories they told that it could often be difficult to take advantage of the light that pierced through the clouds.

You breathe so well in these mountains. Van Groeningen’s longtime cinematographer Ruben Impens (also Julia Ducournau’s favored collaborator, most recently on last year’s Palme d’or “Titane”) has never done such breathtaking work: it captures the epic vastness of each mountain with stunning clarity, where the film’s visual language could have been so easily flattened into a National Geographic documentary style where the voiceover is meant to color how much those parts of the world make you to feel.

Here you feel everything, because there are so many heartfelt details. Not necessarily in the tactile close-ups of hands on skin or insects buzzing in summer grass, but in the way the light hits the vast expanse of water just right, sparkling as you float, flowing so clearly until you meet again and have no choice but to follow where it takes you. That same care also extends to the people who ride it, with Pietro and Bruno’s childhood so wonderfully captured in its idyllic pockets of unequivocal joy. It’s what the boys in Pixar’s ‘Luca’ would have had during their glorious summer together, it’s the same childlike fun Elio and Oliver shared in ‘Call Me By Your Name’ as the film took you up into the mountains for just a minute, bellowing each other’s names through the clouds, before, inevitably, having to come back down and pretend never to have felt it.

These glimpses blossom into something more poignant and decisive in the lives of Pietro and Bruno in “The Eight Mountains.” A perfect childhood together (framed, always, by Bruno’s absent father and Pietro’s struggle to find satisfaction or any sense of identity) gives way to a more difficult decade of adulthood (beginning with a touching reintroduction where both men break the 20 year ice by complimenting each other’s awesome beards) have spent building, thinking, punching, growing new roots just the two of them in order to create something that hopefully -he, will survive all the things they struggle to find faith in.

You could imagine shades of “Brokeback Mountain” appearing, but that would be doing a disservice to the strength of this friendship. It’s wholesome far beyond an often naïve distillation of that word, solid with how romance can degrade and struggle in its fragility and volatility. It transcends the momentum of that first awareness of what it means to desire another person. That’s not to say we just watch two guys be guys for two and a half hours, up and down the mountains – but their struggles are so subtle and richly portrayed, with enough time to understand and return to the questions both desperately want answers and the empty spaces they spend their lives trying to fill before they can even articulate what they lack.

The silence is often filled with the songs of Daniel Norgren, the film’s composer who lends his back catalog to perfect moments of contemplation that earn the weight of the greatest ambient tracks from Dire Straits, Neil Young and, well, all the other great folk songwriters in our lifetime. Somehow it still works, learning from the mistakes of the emotional, albeit sometimes contrived, soundtrack of the often emotionally manipulative “beautiful boy” who went from Sigur Rós to Aphex Twin to John Coltrane and again to Neil Young while this suffering teenager cornered another. needle in his arm again and again.

Pietro and Bruno have their own struggles – the death of Pietro’s father shakes the foundations of the two boys’ lives, as Pietro searches for the man he doesn’t know how to be and Bruno mourns the parent he always wanted to be. his own, while financial worries reluctantly tie Bruno and his wife (Pietro’s friend Lara, a neat subplot) and daughter to a world below that he never wanted. Marinelli is our narrator and anchor, giving the film an at times overly literary quality with the embrace of many of Cognetti’s most lyrical turns of phrase, teetering on the edge of sentimentality without ever quite falling into a tailspin. Pietro wanders the Eight Mountains and beyond, finding a new home and purpose in Nepal before returning to save Bruno from himself.

But as Lara kindly tries to tell Pietro, you can’t help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. And sometimes, as Bruno tells Pietro, it’s just not possible to fully care for another person. Maybe that’s why he, we, need mountains, grass, streams, stones and snow. Constantly evolving as the seasons change and the years pass, but with the eternal promise that they will return. It would be corny if it weren’t so undeniable. There’s, of course, a biting, conscious irony of two urban filmmakers doing another “Wild” about being there, embracing nature when you don’t understand it, and rejecting it when it does. is all you have left. But there is so much more at stake – in the physical beauty of all things that serve a defining life purpose, the companionship that pushes and pulls you through the years and the cycle.

Because despite Bruno’s stubbornness to stay, and the peace he finds in these moments of solitude in the mountains, the only truth that remains through it all is Pietro. The life that through it all, they still shared. Ricocheting around the world and watering the seeds they planted until they, like all things, wither and die. There is still, at the end, the hope that the growth is eternal, the gratitude that this friendship resists everything. Even when it’s gone too. Because even when the sun has set, so many times, it will always rise.

Grade: B+

“Les Huit Montagnes” had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival in competition. It is currently seeking distribution in the United States.

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