Belgium’s male bonding drama is incredibly unsentimental

For its sequel to 2018’s drug addiction drama “Beautiful Boy,” Belgian filmmaker Felix van Groeningen and his life and creative partner, Charlotte Vandermeersch, have delivered an Italian-language literary adaptation that might at first glance sound like a song. rather familiar. , especially if you have seen this other melancholic tale about two men forming and fostering a life-defining love at a precipitous altitude.

Van Groeningen and Vandermeersch’s “The Eight Mountains” — which premiered in competition at the 2022 Cannes Film Festival on Wednesday — is more than just Dudes Rock’s “Brokeback Mountain.” Yet there is something to the comparison. Not for any narrative resemblance – like a story of friendship, “The Eight Mountains” explores a bond that’s more brotherly than romantic. But thematically, the two very different titles share a bittersweet belief that while our deepest relationships can uplift us, they too rarely save us.

Adapted from Paolo Cognetti’s bestseller, this two-and-a-half-hour film uses its quiet runtime to explore the decade-spanning friendship with Pietro, the town mouse (played as an adult by “Martin Eden” and “The Old Guard” star Luca Marinelli) and field mouse Bruno (Alessandro Borghi, of “Suburra”), who meet as children on the Alpine range where Pietro’s family vacations each summer. Recognizing in each other a vision of a different life, the two boys quickly become friends before time (and filial rebellion) separates them for years.

Meeting again in their early thirties, the two pick up as if not a minute had passed, reflecting one of the film’s key ideas: those who peak have nowhere to go but to down, and for taciturn men, socialized to be loud-and-quiet, not seeking a domestic partner and following very different paths, it is not easy to build such an emotionally vulnerable friendship. Keeping him alive is even harder.

Renovating an abandoned house atop an isolated mountain and returning each year with growing entourages and expanding families, Pietro and Bruno build a literal (and of course metaphorical) refuge for their friendship, even if they wouldn’t say it. never so loud. In fact, they almost never communicate with each other during the harsh winters that leave home inhospitable, saving their limited speech for the languid days atop the mountains torn from the weather and seasons, which keep the peak mostly snow-capped.

Seen in a certain light, this type of male-bonding image might be the most common (and most profitable) of all film styles, the engine that powers so many genres, from war dramas to cop buddy movies. via Judd Apatow. concept of sci-fi comedies with “SNL” alumni and SFX budgets.

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But what sets “The Eight Mountains” apart is the extent to which co-directors van Groeningen and Vandermeersch eliminate so much pretense and artifice, leaving only one strong central question: what is it? who makes and stops people from connecting in a meaningful way? The filmmakers then adopt a refreshing and unsentimental tone in responding to it.

This lack of sentiment is perhaps all the more surprising given the source material, which is certainly open to operatic exaggeration as it ponders the big questions of life and death, family and of guilt. It’s doubly surprising considering the filmmakers’ previous collaboration on “The Broken Circle Breakdown,” a tearful musical that brought audiences to tears across the globe (as in previous work, only van Groeningen took the lead there). ‘attach).

Either way, that particular blend of Northern European flair and Southern European feeling works wonders throughout the film, which fully embraces a degree of literary pedigree as it ruminates in quiet moments and voiceovers.

That being said, “The Eight Mountains” remains an impressive cinematic experience, capturing the sweeping Italian mountains with beautiful Academy-size photography from “Titanium” cinematographer Ruben Impens, while pitting it against a soundtrack of chunks bluesy song by Swedish singer-songwriter Daniel Norgren. Time and again, filmmakers manage to capture the majesty and melancholy of nature, and the glorious banality of the lives that pass through it.

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