Review by Sean Boelman
Sometimes, a filmmaker takes a long time between their efforts, but more often than not, it’s worth the wait. It’s been over a decade since Michelangelo Frammartino’s last critically-acclaimed feature, Le Quattro Volte, and his newest movie, Il Buco, does not disappoint.
The film tells the story of a group of spelunkers who explore one of the deepest caves in the world while on an expedition in the south of Italy. While this may seem like a concept destined to make a thriller a la The Abyss or even an Indiana Jones-style adventure, Frammartino opts to do something much more restrained.
There isn’t much dialogue in the movie, and when there is dialogue, you can’t expect it to be particularly obvious or revealing. This is a film about mood and emotion, with a narrative created almost exclusively through the juxtaposition of its images. It’s a style that is certain to lose some people’s attention, but others will vibe with its restrained poeticism.
The themes of the movie are hard to pinpoint at first, and if you are looking for Frammartino to be making anything resembling a clear statement, you are certainly looking in the wrong place. However, there are some interesting threads here about the unknown and how small we are as individuals in the big picture of things.
Because of the largely dialogue-free nature of the film, there admittedly isn’t a whole lot of character development for any one person. Indeed, the characters are all billed as “Speleologist” or “Shepherd”, except for one who is a “Speleologist and drawer.” It’s far more about the collective experience of exploration than any one person.
In a similar way, none of the actors really shine in the movie, but they all do a solid job. Frammartino used nonprofessional actors — opting to compose the cast of real-life speleologists — and it works all the better for it. Not only does it give it an added sense of realism, they also do an exceptional job of communicating the power of this world through their mannerisms.
Of course, the film is just as gorgeous as one would expect. The movie is full of long shots of the eponymous cave, and it would be hard not to be in awe of the beauty of one of the deepest parts of our world. Renato Berta’s cinematography is fantastic and will undoubtedly go down as some of the year’s best.
Il Buco certainly isn’t going to be for everyone with its slow pacing and general lack of narrative, but those who are willing to let it almost roll over your body and experience it in a profound way will be quietly impressed. This is the type of movie that seems small at first, but is really much bigger when you look at it differently.
Il Buco is now playing in theaters.