London Film Festival – Review: Il Buco (2021)


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One of the great benefits of being back in the cinema is that you can experience movies in an immersive way, rather than the precise focus of a TV. Without this option, films like “Il Buco” by Michelangelo Frammartino would not have the same impact.

10 years after his little independent hit “La Quattro Volte”, he returns with what can only be described as a meditative look at two worlds coexisting in the Italian countryside of the 1960s. One of them is life in rhythm slow from an octogenarian cattle rancher, while the other is a young group of excited cave explorers on an expedition to map what, at the time, was marked as the third deepest cave in the world.

In addition to showing these contrasting worlds, ‘Il Buco’ itself seems caught between two, being neither a narrative film, nor a documentary. Instead, it’s sort of a contemplative observation, lazily letting events take over the viewer slowly and soothingly. Interspersed with the cavers and the old man are footage from an information film watched by children in the local village. The presenter, sort of Italian Michael Palin, is halfway up the Pirelli Tower on a window washer platform, discussing how he likes to look at the workers inside.

So, there are several layers of perspective here. The TV presenter and the workers, who in turn are watched by the villagers, the old man watching from the side of the hill the bustle of the cavers below, then finally the audience watching it all. Everyone in this chain has their own take on what is important in their life and finds curiosity in what they watch. Ultimately, it could be taken as a commentary on how we all are around each other. Sit on a train for awhile and it’s almost possible not to wonder what everyone is doing.

The only real problem with ‘Il Buco’ is knowing how much of it you can watch before it starts to lose your interest. Some will find its runtime far too long for a movie without any meaningful dialogue, and there’s an argument that it should have been half that length. Others, however, will revel in the calm and be captivated throughout.

Where it unreservedly succeeds is both visually and with its remarkable sound design. The beauty of the Calabrian landscape around Mount Pollino is spectacularly cinematic, and the large canvas is well used. This allows a visual narrative to exist that leads the viewer on the journey of speleologists. Likewise, the richness of the soundscape draws you into the film, with the environment around you and enveloping you as the film passes through it. Even with this, he may not always hold your attention and you may find yourself out of his reach.

As previously stated, for many this will be the perfect escape they needed, especially after last year, so “Il Buco” could come just at the right time. Be aware, however, that entering, you may enjoy this on a more technical level than expected.

‘Il Buco’ is screened as part of the London Film Festival at BFI Southbank NFT1 (Thursday 14 October), Odeon Luxe West End (Friday 15 October) and BFI Southbank Studio (Sunday 17 October).

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