Q&A with Felix van Groeningen & Charlotte Vandermeersch
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize at last year’s Cannes, Felix van Groeningen & Charlotte Vandermeersch’s The Eight Mountains is a sweeping adaptation of Paolo Cognetti’s novel which charts the life-long friendship of two boys in a secluded Alpine village. Best known for his Oscar-nominated music drama The Broken Circle Breakdown and the Timothée Chalamet starring Beautiful Boy, Belgian filmmaker Felix van Groeningen shares directing duties for the first time with actress, writer and regular collaborator Charlotte Vandermeersch, as the two craft a breathtaking tale of self-discovery.
The Eight Mountains is now playing in New York theaters and opens in Los Angeles today.
Q. The landscapes in the film are much more than just a setting or background. What was one of the driving ideas that helped establish the look of The Eight Mountains?
A. The choice of the aspect ratio (1.33) defined a lot, maybe even everything. What mostly matters visually when seeing a mountain is the peak and that works better in a more vertical format. What you ‘miss’ left and right, you fill in, so it’s more mysterious. It also made it more intimate, and gave us more options to bring the characters and the mountains in the same shot.
Other than that, I think the mountains work in the film because they are part of the storylines on many levels, and the way our characters relate to them. Bruno, for instance, almost becomes one with the mountain towards the end. For Pietro the mountains have different meanings throughout the film.
Q. What appealed to you about adapting this novel by Paolo Cognetti, specifically? Was there a moment or a scene that immediately stood out when you read it?
A. The ending just crushed me. The harshness of the finiteness of things for us humans, and our quest to try and find peace with that, contrasted with the beauty of nature.
Bruno’s stubbornness that led to this, while you are also being forced to see it as a quality.
Q. You both learned to speak Italian for this film. How did you go about creating an atmosphere of authenticity while shooting?
A. We spent a lot of time there, getting to know people well, while studying the language. After a while we started to understand the subtle differences between different accents etc. We worked with local farmers and mountain guides and observed Paolo, the author of the book, how he and his mountain friends interacted… how they opened up to us… all of that was really important.
The older Pietro and Bruno made sure they sounded like their younger counterparts, we worked with dialect coaches and had real mountain people on set; non professional actors. For the look: other than having great people for production design and costumes, we brought in local masons to build the house in a traditional way, etc.
Q. What is your first memory of watching a film in your childhood?
A. Felix: I think a film with the Smurfs ? But not really sure. I was a big fan of the Star Wars early on, and Superman.
Charlotte: I remember seeing The Little Mermaid in the movie theater, crying on my aunt’s lap as a huge Ursula rose from the sea.
Q. What is your favorite myth?
A. The one with the sirens singing to Odysseus, luring him in, trying to bring his ship to ruin… especially in the version of the Coen brothers in O Brother, Where Art Thou?!
Q. What’s a piece of advice that you’ve never forgotten?
A. NEVER KILL YOUR DARLINGS (haha… sometimes you have to kill your darlings, sure, but sometimes you have to kill a lot of other things just in order to keep one darling… Which all comes down to: there are no rules… and that’s the best piece of advice I concluded).
Q. What’s the last film that you saw and loved?
A. Fire of Love. A poetic documentary feature about an eccentric French couple who are volcanologists dedicating their lives to researching the earth’s volcanoes with absolute devotion, without any fear of death.
Q. What image would you like to end this interview with?
A. Us FaceTiming with grandma.