Friendship, mountains, growing up, and our changed rapport with the planet in the wake of the pandemic are the main elements in Cannes competition title “The Eight Mountains” by Belgian directors Felix van Groeningen (“Beautiful Boy”) and Charlotte Vandermeersch. (Watch the trailer above.)
The film is based on an Italian novel of the same title by Paolo Cognetti. It has won multiple awards in Italy and France and is also the author’s first book published in the U.S.
“The Eight Mountains” is a coming-of-age tale set over three decades about two young Italian boys — one, named Pietro, who is the son of a chemist, the other, Bruno, of a stonemason — who spend their childhoods together in a secluded Alpine village roaming the surrounding peaks and valleys before their paths diverge. Many years later, they reconnect in the same place.
The film marks the first foray into Italian-language filmmaking for Van Groeningen who, prior to “Beautiful Boy,” his English-language debut, broke out with Oscar-nominated “The Broken Circle Breakdown,” which is in Dutch, followed by the Sundance prize-winning “Belgica.”
Van Groeningen teamed up on “Eight Mountains” with Vandermeersch, his partner in life, an actor and writer now making her directorial debut. They previously collaborated professionally on “Breakdown,” on which she served as a co-writer.
In an interview with the directors, Van Groeningen said they were very moved by the characters in the book, which he called “a simple story, an epic really, set against a beautiful backdrop” that spoke to him directly, with elements “That were very very personal to me,” he said.
Early in the process they met with Paolo Cognetti who lives six months out of the year in the Alps. “He showed us around a lot of the locations that serve as inspirations for this book,” he said, so in the end they shot the Italian portion of the film, which is also shot in Nepal, near to the writer’s Alpine abode.
“We wanted for the mountains to feel as real as possible,” said Van Groeningen. “So we built a house at 2,000 meters of altitude; and we went on a glacier. It wasn’t alway easy, but it was what we felt was necessary for this movie,” he added.
“Even the interiors, we shot them at 2,000 meters, which is kind of crazy. But in the end I think it works,” the director noted.
Vandermeersch pointed out that it’s a multilayered story spanning over 30 years in which the viewer witnesses different phases in the life of these two friends.
Like in many lifelong friendships, “In growing up, at the beginning you are just spending time together as kids, and time seems endless. In the case of our protagonists, every summer. But then things become more complicated, and you have to make an effort to be friends. You have to want it. And through the hardships of life, you have to know how to be there for one another,” she said.
The directors wrote the script during lockdown and both say it was “really nice” to be in the Alps and in Nepal, which are the film’s two main locations, at that particular time. This “trip that we made in our fantasy to these corners of the world during lockdown” seeped into the film, Vandermeersch noted.
“I think a lot of people felt this need to go out. It was a time to sit back and reassess your way of living; our way as human beings on the planet to find new respect for the earth. This is also something that is in the project,” she said.
“The Eight Mountains” stars Italian A-lister Luca Marinelli (“Martin Eden”) and Alessandro Borghi (“Devils”) – respectively as Pietro and Bruno – as well as Filippo Timi (“Vincere”) and Elena Lietti (“Three Floors”).
Van Groeningen noted that Marinelli and Borghi played friends before in Claudio Caligari’s gritty “Non essere cattivo” (“Don’t Be Bad”) which went to Venice in 2015.
The film is produced by Mario Gianani and Lorenzo Gangarossa for Wildside, a Fremantle company, co-produced with Belgium’s Rufus and Menuetto, France’s Pyramide Productions and Vision Distribution and produced in collaboration with the U.K.’s Elastic and with Sky.
Executive producer is Louis Tisné from UK’s Elastic. Vision Distribution is also international sales agent and will distribute the film in theaters in Italy, while Pyramide Distribution will release the film in France and Kinepolis Film Distribution and Dutch Film Works will handle theatrical distribution in Benelux.