Review: The Hole (2021)

Venezia 78 Competition

The films of Michelangelo Frammartino feel to me generically unique. They usually proceed without dialogue, although people might speak in they don’t do so in the service of the film. Il Buco for instance which screened at the Venice Film Festival had no subtitles. The shots are often long both in the sense of duration and space. Stories appear in the distance. Details to be picked out of a broader landscape. There’s a feel of the documentary: real people doing real things. But at the same time his films are indubitably fiction, at best recreations. And there is a magical, deeply meditative view of the universe that emerges.

Il Buco is deep. Literally. First we see from the point of view of a hole, looking up at some curious cattle who in turn are peering down. Then a news clip has an intrepid television reporter going up the side of a modern skyscraper in 1960, doing so to bring the modern Italians a view of the new Italy from a height. It’s wit is not immediately apparent, but soon we are with a team of scientists from the north who travel to Calabria to explore the caves of Pollina. Just as Italy is aspiring to new heights, these cavers are heading into the depths of the Bifurto Abyss.

Meanwhile, in the same time and on the same mountain, an old herdsman with a face that smacks of its own geological history spends his days calling to his cattle and his evenings with the other farmers in a hut drinking and amusing each other with animal impressions. 

The story, such as it is, proceeds like a documentary. We just follow, usually from a distance, what people do. The team pitch their tents, and start to rope down into the ground. They light pages of a news magazine which float down on the air currents, lighting the depths with the orange glow of flame and giving us an awe-inspiring sense of scale. In the meantime, the farmer has had fallen gravely ill and lies on the verges of death, tended over by his companions. As the scientists go deeper and deeper, so his breath becomes shallower and shallower, in a visual rhyming which justifies this film as that rarest of things: truly poetic cinema. 

The cows and horses continue to munch the pasture, oblivious to events unfolding below and above them as are the two sets of Italians to each other. The exploration must at some point hit the bottom just as the herdsman must finally breathe his last breath. And yet a mystery has been exposed. There is a hole 700 meters deep and even though no one is there now, it still is. An emptiness dripping in the middle of a mountain, of complete and absolute darkness. Though once in 1961 someone dropped a burning photograph of Sophia Loren to briefly light the walls.

Original Title: Il Buco
Country: Italy, France, Germany
Language: no dialogues
Year: 2021
Runtime: 93′
Directed by: Michelangelo Frammartino
Written by: Michelangelo Frammartino, Giovanna Giuliani
Cinematographer: Renato Berta
Cast: Paolo Cossi, Jacopo Elia, Denise Trombin, Nicola Lanza, Antonio Lanza, Leonardo Larocca, Claudia Candusso, Mila Costi, Carlos Jose Crespo
Editor: Benedetto Atria
Production Design: Giliano Carli
Costume Designer: Stefania Grilli
Sound: Simone Paolo Olivero
Visual Effects: Gilberto Arpioni