IL BUCO – Review by Diane Carson

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Il Buco explores the Bifurto Abyss and the Calabrian locale

In Il Buco, Italian director Michelangelo Frammartino moves from vertigo-inducing heights to claustrophobic depths. Outdoors at night, a group watches a television show featuring Milan’s thirty-two story Pirelli skyscraper. Frammartino then establishes the gorgeous, mountainous, rural Calabrian landscape in Italy’s far south. An old man sits silently on a hillside vocalizing to his cattle.

Meantime, young speleologists in Turin organize their October 1961 campaign to map the Bifurto Abyss in that Calabrian region. Europe’s deepest cave, the third largest on Earth, reaching seven hundred meters in depth, the Bifurto Abyss appears like a yawning cavern in the unnamed shepherd’s neighborhood. Cross cutting between Abyss’ nearby, isolated village and the cave explorers’ tent camp, Il Buco, meaning The Hole, casts its spell with few words, the sounds of nature defining the vividly vibrantly environment.

Their way lit primarily by headlamps, team members lower themselves down on electron ladders and ropes, penetrating the cave’s mysteries, ever farther advancing through dark shafts and twisting tunnels to discover a hidden pool. Cinematographer Renato Berta captures this unnerving darkness as it yields to disruptive light. And as the old herder quietly observes his livestock and as the cave crew advances into the twenty-nine pits of the Bifurto Abyss, the parallels between delving into human nature and the cave become clear. Ominously, this mapping takes its toll on the old man’s health. In fact, Frammartino, co-writer as well as director, believes that “mapping the cave is a kind of colonization [for] the cave is desecrated.” Indeed, a dark, previously inscrutable universe is now documented.

This meditative, deeply moving film is pure poetry. It casts a spell of profoundly moving images and ideas. Awarded the Venice Film Festival’s Special Jury Prize, Il Buco is in Italian with English subtitles.

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Diane Carson

Diane Carson, Ph.D., Professor Emerita, has reviewed films for over 25 years and has covered the Cannes, Telluride, Toronto, Palm Springs, and Sundance festivals. She writes for KDHX, 88.1 FM. St. Louis’ community radio. One of the founders of the St. Louis International Film Festival, she continues to serve on juries. A past president of the University Film and Video Association, she taught film studies and production at St. Louis Community College and at Webster University. Her new book, written with two colleagues, is “Appetites and Anxieties: Food, Film, and the Politics of Representation,” Wayne State U. Press, 2014.