«Le Otto Montage» by Felix van Groeningen & Charlotte Vandermeersch

Light rain over Fribourg this afternoon. I’m hesitating between watching «Avatar 2» and an indie film that was highly recommended by my family. As my friends all seemed to be busy (skiing or shopping) I visited my grandpa, who was happy to go for a little walk together with his dog, Hisis. During our little stroll we stopped three times, always on the same three benches. You may think how lazy but maybe I should add that my grandpa is 92 and in good shape… at some point I suggested going to the cinema to watch an italian movie called «Le otto montagne» (“The eight mountains”) and my grandpa agreed.

Some of you may have seen «Beautiful Boy» (US 2018) with Timothée Chalamet or «The Broken Circle» (BE 2012) both directed by Felix van Groeningen. This time he directed with his wife, Belgian actress and author Charlotte Vandermeersch. The film is set in the Italian alps (we see the Matterhorn from behind) in a little village called Grana. There, a couple from Turin and their son Pietro have rented a house for the summer. Luckily for Pietro there is another twelve-year-old in the village, Bruno. The two become friends and spend time at the river or in the fields. When Bruno has to work, Pietro reads or spends time with his parents. His dad, an engineer who works in a factory with “10’000” workers – as Pietro tells Bruno – loves to go on long hikes with his son. When they’ve reached a summit he drops some lines in a diary stored in a metal box underneath a cross.

As the summer draws to a close, Pietro’s parents suggest they take Bruno to Turin so he can attend college there. But Bruno’s dad is against it and wants him to become a mason, like himself. From there on the two boys grow apart. Once they meet in a local pub when they’re about 18 and they greet each other from afar. Only in their thirties, after the passing of Pietro’s dad, they meet again properly and reactivate the somnolent friendship they had as boys. Bruno shows Pietro a remote chalet he had promised to restore for Pietro’s dad. The two spend the summer working on the house called “Brama drola” and Pietro invites his friends from Turin for a weekend in the mountains. That’s where Bruno meets Lara, friend, colleague and a bit more to Pietro. Lara grew up in the mountains and falls in love with Bruno. Pietro doesn’t mind. He is a free spirit, not sure where his life will lead him and he starts travelling to Nepal, where he climbs the Himalaya. On one of his trips he encounters a Nepali girl, who he falls in love with.

Back in the Italian Alps life has gone on: Bruno and Lara have become parents of a little Anita and they try to live on the cheese production but slowly drown in debts. During a phone call, Pietro asks his friend if he wants him to come back for support. He agrees. At some point Lara leaves Bruno. From there on Bruno refuses any help and he ends up soending a very hard winter alone in “Brama drola”.

The film is touching. Less tragic than the two cited above but nevertheless very sensitive. This time it’s centered around a friendship, not a love relationship like in «Broken Circle» or a father-son-relationship like in «Beautiful Boy». What does it mean to be a good friend? How far would you go to help your best friend? These questions but also questions of upbringing and the relationships to one’s parents are central in the story. They forge the present of a man, who doesn’t want to leave his mountains and confines himself to his birth place. Faced with a separation he somehow chooses to do as his own dad did, live far from his offspring. Pietro confronts Bruno with it but he doesn’t want to hear and sends him away.

My 90-year-old grandpa thought the film was a bit too long (even though he didn’t fall asleep, I think). I thought the length was ok but I wasn’t happy with the ending. Anyway, some plot twists, like Bruno in Turin, would have been a nice change from the mountains, which are of course a nice background (even more to a Belgian director couple;) but as we in Switzerland know too well, often the set of tragedies. In that sense; this film is an exception to my aversion to movies set in the mountains. Go watch it!

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