Release Date – 10th June 2022, Cert – U, Run-time – 1 hour 33 minutes, Director – Michaelangelo Frammartino
A group of cavers and speleologists explore unknown depths outside a small Italian village.
Having gone into Il Buco knowing nothing about the film aside from the title I found myself wondering part way through whether what I was watching was a narrative feature or a documentary. The lines are blurred through the highly naturalistic, almost silent, style which director Michaelangelo Frammartino brings to the piece. Instead of focusing on dialogue he allows nature and the environment to speak for itself in an almost calming manner. The light and greenness of the surface field, tended to by Antonio Lanza’s aging shepherd contrasts with the claustrophobic darkness of caves which are so key to much of the film. We see a group of cavers and speleologists (scientists studying caves and their formations) embarking on an expedition into unknown depths in a cave just outside of an Italian village, gently enclosed in the valleys. The gradual pacing and use of natural sounds in the opening stages sets in place the idea that this is going to be a fairly gentle film. It prepares your mind so that you don’t expect a proper narrative to begin unfolding and manage to get caught up in what the film is actually showing you.
Much of this is helped by the strong visual style of the piece. Thanks to Renato Berta’s cinematography both above and below ground the look of the piece keeps you in place throughout and helps to keep you engaged for much of the run-time, particularly when things become slightly slower in jumping back and forth between the cavers and the shepherd as he suffers from an increasing illness. Certainly the caving provides the most interesting elements of the piece, but nothing overall feels dominant in terms of focus as everything blends together in that documentary-like style. It’s a feeling further pushed by the camera often being a slightly distanced, observing force rather than up close and in the faces of the various figures who act out the points and moments that construct the slight arc of that the film runs across.
Perhaps due to the fact that we don’t completely get to connect with the characters one or two beats don’t quite have the impact they would like, but with something of this nature with its experimental leanings the involvement that we do have – even if at times thin – leads to an interest in what is happening in that moment in time. The slight fear that someone might get stuck in a cave, or the general intrigue as to how deep the cave really goes – the orange glare of burning magazine pages spiralling down to see how far the new drop travels is a recurring highlight in terms of the visual feast the film provides. During such moments brief glimpses of fascination, and perhaps wonderment, are created, simply thanks to the visuals which truly come to life on the big screen and help to keep you in the world that’s created, even if at times you are only simply watching instead of properly being involved.
But, alongside the views that are on display, perhaps the biggest thing that intrigues you about the film, is that for the most part it works and has you engaged in some way or another. It might begin to dip off around the hour mark when things begin to slightly stagger, but there’s still enough present to keep some interest in the cave exploration and, again, how natural everything feels. Maybe this is down to the moments of build-up and shots of the village near the hills and cave we spend so much time in, where the initial feeling is that this might be a film of everything and nothing – quickly moved on from once things are established. But, the 93 minute run-time generally feels like a natural fit, anything longer and things would perhaps feel more stretched and pushed. But, what we do have is an interesting piece of slightly experimental work. Using natural noise, images and style to create a wholly naturalistic picture, which helps to bring you in; particularly in the moments of cave exploration. You may not always be completely invested, but there’s often something to be interested or intrigued by, especially in terms of the impressive look which forms the core connection to this visual exploration.
Even when you’re not completely involved there’s a level of interest to be had in Il Buco, largely thanks to the highly naturalistic, documentary-like style which is further fuelled by the excellent visuals which bring the piece to life, and keep you engaged for the most part.