Michelangelo Frammartino’s entrancing, magisterially paced film charts the work of speleologists as the explore a cave in rural Calabria.
It’s 1961, which we find out through a television report and various magazines that appear fleetingly in Frammartino’s singular drama. The exploration of the cave is based on actual events, but the filmmaker is less interested in the team’s strenuous efforts to descend into the dark abyss than in regarding it as an existential journey that mirrors an ageing shepherd’s last moments on Earth. As the team goes deeper into the cave, the shepherd’s grip on life becomes more tenuous. And through these parallel events, Frammartino ponders our relationship with the world around us.
Anyone who saw the filmmaker’s previous feature, 2010’s spellbinding Le quattro volte, will have some idea of what to expect from Il buco. The very antithesis of blockbuster cinema, the film is nevertheless a dazzling experience. From its opening shot, Il buco is comprised of a series of stunning image of the vast Calabrian landscape – not so much a part of Italy as a whole world unto itself. And even as Renato Berta’s camera journeys deeper into the arteries beneath this world, the film continues to draw us in, the elusiveness of Frammartino’s aims only adding to the film’s allure. It’s a masterclass in telling a story through images and highlights how visual language can be as philosophical as the printed word.