The Italian-language film “The Eight Mountains” (”Le Otto Montagne”) is based on the popular 2018 novel by Paolo Cognetti. The winner of the 2022 Cannes Jury Prize is the story of an on-again, off-again 40-year platonic relationship between two men, Pietro (Luca Marinelli) and Bruno (Alessandro Borghi). They first meet as 12-year-olds when Pietro’s dad, Giovanni (Filippo Timi), takes him to the mountain town where Bruno is the only remaining child in residence.
Young Bruno and Pietro (played by Cristiano Sassella and Lupo Barbiero, respectively) establish a warm rapport early on, leading Giovanni to think Bruno would benefit from joining his family in Turin so his lonely son can have a best friend nearby. But Bruno is the country mouse to Pietro’s city mouse; in his heart, he longs to live his familial tradition of mountain rancher and cheesemaker.
The mountains will become the duo’s meeting place for several decades to come. Even after not seeing one another for 15 years, they are both drawn back to the place where they originally met. The plot sounds a bit like a heterosexual “Brokeback Mountain.” The Belgian filmmakers, Felix van Groeningen and his actress-partner Charlotte Vandermeersch, must have sensed that, because they never allow their actors to do anything that could be remotely read as gay.
Rather, the film wishes to establish the kind of bond between men that you normally see between women in films — that strong “I’ve got your back” message you’d find in “Steel Magnolias” or “Beaches.” I have no doubt Pietro loves Bruno and wants to provide such a bond because Marinelli’s narration violates a certain “Encanto” song’s advice: He can’t stop talking about Bruno.
The problem is, so many movies subscribe to the notion that the only way to be manly is to either be stubborn or toxic; there’s an unspoken rule to never show or discuss one’s emotions. “The Eight Mountains” rewards this type of behavior, giving the one character who most adheres to these tropes of masculinity a hero’s send-off, as if his ultimate fate were somehow noble instead of unwise.
“The Eight Mountains” does at least attempt to evoke the feelings of its protagonists by using several musical interludes by the film’s composer, Daniel Norgren. Whenever there’s a pause in the action, a folk song will occupy our time. Your mileage may vary, but I found these songs to be quite grating. Imagine Neil Young singing emo songs by Morrissey. And a film that runs two-and-a-half hours long can accommodate a lot of songs.
Marinelli captures his character’s wanderlust well. Pietro travels through various mountain ranges (including the Himalayas) searching for a place to belong. When he learns that his late father, with whom he hadn’t spoken in 20 years, forged a strong bond with Bruno during their estrangement, Pietro’s quest takes on a deeper resonance. It also provides a safe excuse for him to re-establish contact with Bruno.
As Bruno, Borghi has the harder role. His stubbornness costs him dearly, and we’re meant to sympathize with a man who chooses to abandon his family for some macho ideal. He is seen through Pietro’s rose-colored glasses, which makes our understanding based on a possibly unreliable narrator. But hearing Pietro ramble on about him in voiceover is not as effective as seeing him show affection to Bruno.
The real power of “The Eight Mountains” comes from its visuals. This is a stunning movie filled with vertiginous shots of people expertly walking narrow, dangerous mountain passes. Cinematographer Ruben Impens wisely lets the scenery do the work; the camera is just an observer recording the majesty. The look of the film is so spectacular that I almost want to recommend you see it solely for that reason. It wasn’t enough to save the film for me.
THE EIGHT MOUNTAINS
Written and directed by Felix van Groeningen and Charlotte Vandermeersch. Based on the book by Paolo Cognetti. Starring Luca Marinelli, Alessandro Borghi, Filippo Timi, Cristiano Sassella, Lupo Barbiero. 147 minutes. At Coolidge Corner. Unrated (Italian profanity)
Odie Henderson is the Boston Globe's film critic.