Most filmmakers might bristle at the notion of audiences falling asleep while watching their movies, but with Michelangelo Frammartino’s Il Buco, you almost feel as if nodding off for a minute or ten is part of the point. Here is one of 2021’s most soothing films, a tableaux of pastoral landscapes and wordless exploration that’s in no hurry to reach its destination. It’s quiet and slow, calming in its execution but also sometimes undeniably dull.
Melding fiction with quasi-documentarian re-enactments, Il Buco (which literally translates to ‘The Hole’) recounts a 1961 caving expedition in the south of Italy by a group of speleology students who wanted to see just how far they could sink into a remarkable scar on the Calabrian landscape, a scar that turned out to be the third-deepest cave in the world. This quest makes up the majority of Il Buco, though we do also spend some time with the local farmers and their various herds of cows, pigs, and horses.
Calabria makes for a stunningly beautiful setting, a perfect balance of rugged and picturesque, and Frammartino films it brilliantly, conjuring some amazing shots, clever uses of perspective further enhancing the already gorgeous vistas. Sunrises and rolling mists have a hypnotic, lullaby effect, and there is some more lively, striking imagery too as horses nuzzle their way into the expedition’s tents and some of the students play a game of football across the mouth of the cave.
The spelunking itself is the star of the show, though, the very act of getting Frammartino’s cameras into the seemingly endless natural labyrinth a feat of engineering in itself. It’s immersive without being overly claustrophobic, chilly and fascinating with a genuine sense of discovery around every corner. This process does get repetitive though, and with no real characters to speak of (there is no actual dialogue in Il Buco, merely background chatter and confirmatory yells between the explorers), you may find your attention waning quite a while before the credits roll.
Frammartino is wrestling with a couple of deeper questions here, like that of man’s relationship with nature and the divide between truth and fabrication in filmmaking itself, but these thematic throughlines are always of secondary importance to the visuals. You might not find Il Buco compelling, exactly, but if you’re happy to get on its languorous wavelength, you’ll be rewarded with a vision of southern Italy that almost leaves you with the feeling that you’ve just taken a relaxing holiday there yourself.