Michelangelo Frammartino stunned the arthouse world in 2010 with his marvelous Le quattro volte, a beautiful and poignant meditation on the cycle of life.
After a long hiatus, during which Frammartino has kept his post as university professor in Milan and has unsuccessfully tried to complete another film, Il Buco (The Hole) was finally announced in competition at the 78th Venice Film Festival.
It’s 1960. Italy is experiencing his boom economico, a time of economic and social prosperity. Northern Italy is the place to be: it’s the industrial heartland of the country, with the deepest urban and social developments. Many southerners leave their towns, their regions heading north: Milan, Turin, Bologna, Verona, Genoa welcome Italy’s domestic migrants. The south becomes more and more isolated, socially, economically, politically. In this context, a group of speleologists from the Piedmont region takes the opposite path, if for a short time: an abyss in the lands near Mount Pollino, Calabria, has been discovered, and this group of men and women has decided to head south to explore it.
Filming the story of the discovery of the Bifurto Abyss could be both a dream and a nightmare for Michelangelo Frammartino. The exploration of the third deepest cave by then known to mankind (nearly 700 metres deep) is an extremely fascinating subject, but at the same time, how can it be reproduced on film? Frammartino took the highest possible risk: he decided to hire an actual group of speleologists and film their work, their descent into the cave, their mapping work, and their experience inside the abyss. The final result is a film that can be both gorgeous and fascinating as it can be frustrating and testing. By blurring the lines between fiction and documentary, Il Buco finds itself in a limbo it can’t get out of. The views of Mount Pollino and of the inside of the cave are awe-inspiring, and you can’t but feel admiration for the work of the speleologists who decided to go down the rabbit hole of an abyss they seemingly couldn’t see the bottom of.
What Il Buco lacks is the spiritual power of Le Quattro Volte, its transcendent look at life, its slow but absorbing pace. It’s a film that exists like its cave, a film that I respect, because I cannot deny the sheer audacity of Frammartino’s mission, but it’s also a film I cannot bring myself to love.
This review is from the Venice Film Festival. There is no U.S. distribution at this time.