• Festivals

“The Eight Mountains” and “Rebel” Highlight Compelling Stories Beyond the Belgian Borders

In Cannes, Belgian director Felix Van Groeningen, best known for the Oscar-nominated The Broken Circle Breakdown and his Hollywood debut film Beautiful Boy, presented his latest film The Eight Mountains, alongside his real-life partner/actor Charlotte Vandermeersch, who also co-directed and wrote the film. Intimately shot by Ruben Impens in the 4:3 aspect ratio, this touching story about friendship is set in the breathtaking and wonderfully photographed Italian Alpine valley of Aosta.

Another Belgium-made film which expands beyond the Belgian soil is Rebel. This out of competition drama directed by Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah (Bad Boys for Life) turned out to be “a true passion project” for the director’s duo about a Moroccan family torn apart over the future of a young boy.


The Eight Mountains

The Eight Mountains is a moving story, based on the award winning Le Otto Montagne by Paolo Cognetti’s novel about two close friends, torn apart by family, their lives journey and the power of the beautiful mountains. Vandermeersch and Van Groeningen read the book three years ago and immediately knew they wanted to make a movie about this tender story.

“We started working on the script very quickly,” said Van Groeningen at the press conference in Cannes. “We discovered an entire new world, even learned a new language: Italian. Everything happened very quickly, we were casting already before having finished writing the script.” Van Groeningen co-wrote and co-directed the film with his lifelong partner Charlotte Vandermeersch, who was particularly intrigued by the fragility and friendship between these two men.

“For me, it didn’t matter if they were men or women, I just love this story about two very pure, honest people trying to find their way in life”, she said.

The experience of filming in the breathtaking Italian mountains, had a strong impact on the couple, which translated into the film. “While we were working on the film, I thought there was quite a bit of dialogue,” smiles Vandermeersch. “But people tell us there’s so much silence, which was actually the real focus and angle for our film. We wanted to give space to natural sounds like the wind, to birds, to breathing, to being. Our main actors had these amazing moments where there is a mountain of silence between them. Yet these scenes were filled with emotion… Every human being is layered with so many depths and colorful sentiments. Our two actors really captured this and understood the power of silence within their dialogue.”



Adil El Arbi and Bilall Fallah, who became household names in Hollywood after their movie Bad Boys for Life starring Will Smith and Martin Lawrence grossed more than $426.5 million worldwide in 2020, seem to have found a golden key to combine big popcorn Hollywood movies and artsy independent European films. The Belgian Moroccan duo held their Rebel midnight premiere, out of competition in Cannes this week to big applause.

Rebel, a Syrian-war drama tells a powerful tale of a family torn apart over a little Muslim Boy’s future. His brother Kamal is determined to change his life for the better and soon leaves his country, Belgium to go help war victims in Syria. Once Kamal arrives in Syria, he is soon forced to join the military and is left stranded in Raqqa. Back home, his brother Nassim quickly becomes a target for radical recruiters who promise to reunite the boy with his sibling.

This touching feature hits close to home for the directors, especially since many topics emphasize identity, terrorism and politics in the Middle East. “There was a time period in Belgium, around 2012-2013 when many people of Moroccan origin rapidly decided to go to Syria,” Adil said on the Belgian news channel VRT NWS. “The horrific murders by a dictator angered and radicalized many people, so they went there to battle the injustice. For some, their venture started out as a humanitarian journey yet slowly, little by little they reformed and started to load guns. Eventually, sadly, they got sucked into what would become ISIS.” After presenting Rebel in Cannes, Adil and Bilall return to Hollywood to finalize the long-awaited release of Batgirl.