“The Eight Mountains” is a beautiful, heartbreaking drama of friendship and absent fathers. Written and directed by the team of Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch (“The Broken Circle Breakdown”), it is set largely in the mountain village of Grana, Italy, where 12-year-old Pietro (Lupo Barbiero) goes to stay for the summer. He meets Bruno (Cristiano Sassella), the only other youth in the village, and they become fast friends. They reunite every summer and even going on mountain hikes with Pietro’s father, Giovanni (Filippo Timi) until something happens that separates them.
Two decades later, Pietro (Luca Marinelli) and Bruno (Alessandro Borghi) rekindle their friendship. Giovanni has died, and the two men work together to build a house in the mountains per Giovanni’s wishes. As their friendship deepens, their lives again start to grow apart. Pietro goes to Nepal, becomes a writer and falls in love with Asmi (Surakshya Panta). Bruno stays in Grana, marrying Lara (Elisabetta Mazzullo) and makes cheese in an alpeggio.
What transpires between these two men during their lengthy friendship and how they rely on one another for support forms the emotional core of “The Eight Mountains.” The film, which features glorious cinematography, is about how the people and the environment we surround ourselves in shapes us, and who we love and look after that defines our lives.
Alessandro Borghi and Luca Marinelli, friends in real life — they developed a strong bond working together on the 2015 film, “Don’t Be Bad” — give outstanding performances.
The actors each chatted separately with Salon about their new film, which won the Jury Prize at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival.
Bruno and Pietro have a close friendship. What qualities do you share with your closest friends?
Alessandro Borghi: In Italy, they say you can count your best friends on the fingers of one hand. I need both hands. I need to take care of other people. I’m an extrovert. I love to share my thoughts and emotions with people. I figured out that what I need is the capacity to go deep and talk with my friends about everything. It is about trust, the exchange of kindness and the sensation of being acceptable in everything.
Luca Marinelli: The most important quality of a very close friendship, and I consider it a declination of love — it’s called friendship, but in a way it’s a form of love. For me, being there, is the answer. Being there every time there is a need for it. It’s what we see in the film. Pietro asks, “Do I have to be there?”
Why did Bruno and Pietro have such a lifelong bond despite some long periods of separation?
Borghi: Luca and I really love each other; we’re friends in real life. In the film, [our characters] could understand each other without saying anything. They are different, but they need to trust each other. Bruno’s feeling is to be protected by Pietro. This is a real friend who understands everything and every situation. That’s why Bruno decides to share everything with him. On set, we didn’t need rehearsal. We just had to look at each other and have this deep relationship with each other and land. The most important scenes are us sitting and looking out at infinity and sharing emotions.
Marinelli: That’s why I use love as a metaphor for friendship. I think there is something between souls. I don’t want to be metaphysical. Two people who have to be together and help each other. In this case, you can say there is a book writer, and someone who lives alone on a mountain. What do they have in common? They were originally like two young animals playing together, but they changed because they grew up and build some armor to fight against life. But they try to reach each other. As kids, they shared a lot of words that were not spoken. That is something special you have with a close friend.
How did you work with Alessandro on creating the bond between Pietro and Bruno? This is a bromantic love story. There is a natural affinity between you both that is palpable.
Marinelli: We had an advantage because we were already friends. Our friendship was the starting point, and we filtered Pietro and Bruno’s friendship through our friendship. When I hug Alessandro, for me it’s a very emotional moment because I really love him. He was acting, but seeing him in a particular state, he was making me more emotional as Pietro.
There are many scenes of a physical nature — building the house, hiking up mountains, and doing farm work. Can you talk about the physical aspects of the role?
Borghi: I am soft, but I can do whatever I want. I asked the directors if I could learn everything. I learned about building houses, making cheese, milking cows. I didn’t do everything, but I was curious about it, it was all new. The most incredible thing was to deal with animals in the alpeggio. You wake up at 5 a.m. and milk, and then again at 10 a.m., and it’s tiring. There is a smell you can’t forget. If you stay in the alpeggio, you have to take 10 showers a day, and the smell is not going to leave you. It stays with you for two to three weeks. When it becomes normal, you realize you can use that sensation. I’m going to smell like s**t for four months, and this is going to part of the process. I had my moments where I thought, I’m an actor, but maybe I made a mistake, and I am supposed to stay here with cows in the mountains.
What about the strength and vulnerability of these men? Both are stubborn, prideful, and both are sensitive.
Marinelli: In a way, that’s also their strength — they are unique. Bruno has his own world, and to survive in this world, he thinks he has to live this kind of life. Pietro has a different world he lives in, but he was following his dream, but he knows he cannot tell everyone he wants to be a writer. What are you going to eat tomorrow, a pen? It’s like when I said I wanted to be an actor [laughs]. You are following your dream. It’s beautiful to see his determination, but Bruno is the same. He says, “I want to be a montanaro.” They both succeed, but there are different psychological issues or damages and different ways they confront life that affects them. But I love the characters for their stubbornness. If you want to follow your dream, you have to be stubborn. They are like twins. They both succeed in things that are incredible and difficult.
The Eight Mountains (Courtesy of Sideshow and Janus Films)
What do you think the film is saying about masculinity? There is a line from Pietro’s mother about “Silent men,” and Pietro and Bruno are not forthcoming where feelings are concerned.
Borghi: The film has huge thoughts about masculinity. You have to be vulnerable, If not, you’re not human. At the end of the film, you see a hug. In the beginning, Bruno can’t give him a handshake. When they meet each other during a period of grief, they have to start this process together. I had the opportunity to meet with real people from the mountains, and they have a complex relation with physical stuff. It is complicated for them to hug people. I had sensation that I had to hide something. At beginning of relationship between Pietro and Bruno, I forced myself to communicate without touching him. I hope audiences catch that. People have to share their emotions and find the right way to be kind to others. Even if you are introverted, and not able to hug and kiss people, you are still in a position to be a great human being. In our journey as characters, we started with handshakes and finished with hugs.
Marinelli: I never put a label on it. I think it was peculiar for them to be silent. But that was maybe because of the mountain, which is another character in this film — maybe the protagonist that effects everyone. The mountain is silent. There is a holy atmosphere there. But I never thought about it as a “male” friendship. I found the point of contact with Pietro and Bruno in the way they share silence and are close to each other. I don’t say, “I’m male so I’m taking emotion inside.” I’m sharing with my closest friend everything. If I need to hug them, I do it. It’s natural. I need to share, either physically or with words. Sometimes, I found Pietro was trying to reach this point. Please, Bruno, share your thoughts with me. The last part of the film is so powerful when Bruno is in silence for three days. Then they fall into this silence together and Bruno says something and it’s like an epiphany. And there is this hug. For me it’s normal. It’s strange to not have contact. Maybe there’s a cliché of masculinity. But I think it’s not so healthy to not share.
What observations do you have about the father/son relationships in the film?
Borghi: The film is about killing the father in our mind. We will survive without our fathers, and maybe we are ready to be fathers — or not. Is there a timing to figure out what important things people did for you? The important thing is to deal with emotions and ideas we have about our parents. We are full of our parents. We all think we can be alone, but when you are low mood, you need parents to stay with you because they are the know ones who know you for real. It’s that replacing of that figure that is so important for us.
Marinelli: I think that in general, they were trying to put the film as a father-son, but the mother was important, too. She had a lot of interactions with the son. The father, in a very poetic way, gave this wonderful present of friendship to his son, demonstrating nothing is stronger in life than sharing things with your brother, sister and the people who love you. There was a lot of silence between Pietro and his father, maybe because of the mountain; his father loved the mountain. You think about something you’ve lost when you are watching “The Eight Mountains.” I was thinking nothing is lost because even though there are places you can never return to; those places are still with you. That is why travel is the most important thing.
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There is a moment in the film where the characters try to figure out their path in life. What decisions did you make about your lives?
Borghi: It’s so complicated for me to understand what is the best way to live. At some point I had necessity to go away. I felt so constricted in Rome. I didn’t like mindset of city. I had a massive problem with racism, and Italy is a very racist place, so every time I had to deal with that, I had the sensation that I had to go away and find a place where people could deal with strangers. But after two or three years, I missed my family and friends. I came back, and after three years I felt forced to go away again. The idea of the film is that everyone needs to find the best way to live, and maybe you don’t have to stay on the highest mountain or go across all eight mountains but find a balance between the two.
Marinelli: I think the most important thing is to be in the place where you feel best. That can be geographical place or something inside of you. For Pietro it was experiencing the Eight Mountains and for Bruno it was this one mountain. They were very honest with their life. That’s something I learned from this movie. You have to be honest with yourself and stay where you want to stay. The most important thing is to make a choice. Choice is what makes your path.
“The Eight Mountains” opens April 28 in New York City theatres, with theatrical release in additional cities, including Los Angeles, May 5 and beyond.
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