Felix Van Groeningen’s cinema has always revolved around tragic figures struggling with a form of death. Deep human natures, often have unconditional love for each other, but have to fight stubbornly against adversity. For his first choice of the Cannes competition, the Belgian director continues this exploration of human melodrama with the adaptation of the novel The Eight Mountainsof the Italian Paolo Cognetti. And for the first time, she shared the director’s hat with her city partner, Charlotte Vandermeersch, with whom she also signed the screenplay.
On paper, it’s no surprise that the director duo is faced with adapting this story that tells about twenty years of unshakable friendship that bound the two men, and that the confusions of life would take turns separating and then reuniting.. The novel explores themes dear to Groeningen such as the complexity of the parent/child relationship and obsession with characters in understanding the undetected. Clearly we find these motives throughout the film, aiming to be adequate in its form and close to its subject.
With his story told occasionally through the voice-over of his main character, the viewer is therefore invited to immerse himself in Pietro’s memories. It examines her past and the different stages of the relationship she has maintained throughout her life with her friend Bruno, whom she met when she was young. Although initially placed in opposition to each other (Pietro was a child from Turin, Bruno spent his entire life in the mountains), the two children gradually mirror each other, developing a sibling bond that is as unique as it is unbreakable. A bond that, if it is not said as such, will serve as a common thread throughout their lives. Because despite opposing life choices, two men never stop looking for each other, one becomes an anchor to the other and vice versa. The introspection that Pietro lent himself to bring back his memories to life was likely to want to put the words in unspeakable feeling; without any search for a satisfactory answer (another recurring motive with Groeningen).
Shot in the majestic mountains of Valle d’Aosta, in the original Italian language of the novel, Groeningen and Vandermeersch seek the purest truth to tell what connects and what separates these characters.. Ruben Impens’s majestic photograph takes pride of place in the incredible natural setting that married Pietro and Bruno’s feelings at times. The mountain has always defended the friendship before being more threatened if the two men are in the grip of suspicion.
To make the viewer lose the mental and existential wanderings of his hero, the game is in tune, especially thanks to an unstructured montage. Because despite a linear account that gradually passes from childhood to adulthood, The directors take the principle of explosive narration, specific to Groeningen’s previous works (Alabama Monroe, My Beautiful Man). The sequences are linked, of course, with fluidity but there are no clear indications of time actually elapsed between them. result a sense of suspended moments, out of time, reinforced by the use of ellipses and a contradictory cut from one scene to another. An editing choice that finds an obvious connection to the introspective nature of the story.
Contemplative journey of finding oneself through another, The Eight Mountains STUCK a proposal as ambitious in a formal way as the theme. A film with a confusing rhythm (no doubt it would benefit from shortening the half-hour) that will leave more than one viewer thinking about ending the screening. But as long as you accept entering it completely without resistance, it’s a safe bet that this mountain odyssey can give the same feeling as a soft cotton dream.
December 21, 2022 – By Charlotte Vandermeersch and Felix Van Groeningen