“The eight mountains” in the cinema: gaining height, instructions for use

A few days before Christmas, international filmmakers, angry with frivolous distractions, bet on harsh exoticism and on trips to countries where physical and psychological deprivation imposes its pitiless laws. In the awesome Godland (in theaters this week), the Icelandic director Hlynur Palmason portrays, at the end of the 19th century, a young Danish priest who crosses an inhospitable Iceland to build a church and take pictures of the local inhabitants. On his way (of the cross), certain temptations will perhaps distance him from his evangelical mission.

Closer to us geographically and temporally, the duo of Belgian filmmakers Felix Van Groeningen (already author of Alabama Monroe and The shit of things) and Charlotte Vandermeersch, better known as an actress, adapt the novel The Eight Mountains by the Italian writer Paolo Cognetti, honored with the Medici Foreign Prize in 2017. In the film as in the novel, two (very) main characters: Pietro, the son of a wealthy family in Turin who, when summer comes, likes to spend his holidays in a remote corner of the Aosta Valley, and Bruno, a kid from a modest family and born in these mountains that he cherishes from an early age. Pietro’s father, anxious to introduce his son to the joys of extreme hiking, forces him to follow him on long walks in the mountains where Bruno accompanies them. But if the latter likes to indulge in these high-risk courses at altitude, Pietro, he is reluctant to exercise.

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The two children, over several summers in the 1980s, become friends, despite social and cultural differences that seem like chasms. This friendship, essential and vital, asserts itself over the years and decades, without homosexuality being appropriate, at least consciously. And if Bruno, faithful to “his” land, remains there against all odds, at the risk of losing his mind, Pietro only comes back to it intermittently, seeking his existential and loving path all over the planet, to Nepal.

In search of meaning

Pietro is the archetype of the researcher, the nomad, never satisfied, always curious. Bruno is the man who relentlessly climbs the same huge mountain, focused, stubborn, completely focused on his task. “say the filmmakers to characterize their characters. By filming the relationship between these two men, whom existence tries several times to separate without ever succeeding, Felix Van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch evoke the vital link to nature (without ecological tremolo), the problematic relationship to the figure of the father ( without pseudo-psychoanalytical facilities) and portray a modest and overwhelming friendship between two characters who, each in their own way, try to find meaning in their lives.

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The director duo makes the most of the sumptuous natural settings of the Val d’Aosta, but, faithful to their standards, they banish from their cinematographic grammar aesthetic one-upmanship and the small game of the postcard on the big screen. A story that is both ample and intimate, staged in an environment that puts man in his humble place, The Eight Mountains imposes without ostentation its heady poetry and its tenacious melancholy. A kind of must for long winter evenings.

“The Eight Mountains”, by Felix Van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch. Released December 21.

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“The eight mountains” in the cinema: gaining height, instructions for use

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