June 3, 2023

Pietro, the restless, open-hearted city boy who tells “The Eight Mountains,” a tender tale of love and friendship, is 11 years old when the film begins. By the time he’s in his early thirties, he’s a man with a full beard and an insignificant resume. Pietro, a sensitive, charismatic melancholic, is unattached and existentially restless. Cut off from his past and unsure of the future, he suffers from a well-known contemporary complaint that this story circles uneasily without naming, one much like the modern condition.

Based on a slender, celebrated 2016 novel by Italian writer Paolo Cognetti, “The Eight Mountains” follows Pietro through both decades and continents, charting his life through the intense friendship he forms with Bruno in his youth. They first meet in the summer of 1984, when Pietro’s parents – the family lives in Turin – rent an apartment in a village in the Valle d’Aosta, a shockingly beautiful stretch of the Italian Alps that borders both France and Switzerland. borders. There, nestled between velvety green slopes and dominated by jagged, towering peaks, Pietro finds a friend, an ally, a role model and, in time, a sense of belonging.

For both boys, their friendship proves a soul-supporting bond, one that begins with them looking at each other questionably in Pietro’s dark, claustrophobic vacation home, but that quickly changes once they run outside. They walk, race and tumble through the area, exploring and sharing. Bruno is a confident, physically strong kid who can climb the side of a stone building like a goat running up a rock face. He is raised by his aunt and uncle – his mother is missing, his father works abroad as a bricklayer – and is the only child in his village. .

These early scenes are intoxicating, in part because it’s really nice to see happy kids just being happy together, and this is a particularly wonderful place to explore. Like Pietro, you’re instantly immersed in the region’s splendor and mysteries, its densely sheltered foliage, enigmatic desolate nooks and dramatic, seemingly boundless vistas. Whether poking around a derelict building or running through an enveloping tunnel of greenery, and even if they’re just chatting and exchanging useful bits of information – Pietro’s father works as an engineer in a large factory – the two remain visually bound to the material world.