In 1961, a time when the world was scrambling to shiny new heights with towering skyscrapers and novel machinery, the young explorers of the Piedmont Speleological Group ventured into the rural Italian South, searching for undiscovered primeval depths. The abyss they eventually descended deep into turned out to be the third deepest cave in the world at the time.
Il Buco covers this story, with its rich images and intricate sonic details demonstrating an extraordinary technical feat on Frammartino’s end. The winner of the Special Jury Prize at Venice Film Festival 2021, there is no denying that Il Buco is an unparalleled cinematic feat. Here at Perspectives, we had the privilege of speaking with Frammartino to better understand his vision.
Figure 1 The mouth of the cave that the explorers explore in Il Buco
Q: It’s interesting you are now a spelunker yourself. Is it a hobby that is currently a big part of your life?
A: I last went into the cave in November 2019 to record the sound ‘environment’ for some scenes of Il Buco. Then there was the very intense post-production work and the pandemic emergency… I didn’t get to go caving anymore.
Today, however, three years after my last entry, I realise that I miss the underground world and I know that I will return to it soon, perhaps with my son who has grown up a little in the meantime.
What is most important, however, is the fact that when you become a speleologist, you look at the world differently than before: the reality that offers itself to your gaze no longer represents totality; you know that beneath your feet there is a hidden part, and you know that that part is very important!
Q: Despite the film’s categorisation as a drama, many elements of it resemble a documentary. What was the purpose of having the film appear like a documentary?
A: I must confess that my goal in making Il Buco was not to produce a fiction film using documentary language, I was more interested in filming an ‘exceptional exploratory feat’ in an anti-spectacular way! We all know that sports documentaries use seduction techniques very well to capture the audience’s attention and suck them into the narrative. In Il Buco, for me it was very important that the audience be instead free to search for their own path within the ‘map’ of events that make up the film.
Figure 2 One of the characters overlooking the free and vast Italian landscape
Q: Speaking of recreating reality, the film employs real-life spelunkers in place of professional actors. Why this decision and were there any significant challenges you and your team faced because of it?
A: We shot Il Buco in a real vertical abyss, going down to a depth of -400m: it would have been unthinkable, and extremely dangerous, to ask actors to descend to those depths! I must also add that I love the shy and reserved character that all speleologists have in common and that makes them indifferent to the fascination of the camera, and therefore perfect for interpreting an anti-epic film like Il Buco. Working with real speleologists was easy and a really great experience; when they were not busy on stage, they would often intervene to help us solve practical problems that we kept encountering at those depths.
Q: Il Buco is very much in the nature-focused, dialogue-void style of your previous films Il Dono and Le Quattro Volte. Could you tell us what appeals to you about this approach to storytelling? Is it personal preference? Does it play an integral role in the exploration of your topics?
A: The cinematic language in vogue is totally anthropocentric. The unit of measure of the shot, from the close-up to the very long shot, is the human figure, all other presences, animate or inanimate, constitute a blurred background. Cinema, after all, is an optical machine that is connected in hereditary line with the Renaissance invention of perspective: a device that placed us humans in a privileged point from which to observe reality, but ended up separating us from it. I attempt, as I manage and as I can, to re-establish through my films an alliance between the human being and the world.
Figure 3 The travellers inside the cave, an alliance between humans and the world
Q: What drives your interest in the natural landscape, particularly in rural Calabria?
A: An idea of space persists in Calabria that I find extremely fascinating. Calabria is par excellence the land of the ‘unfinished’. Everything in that region is provisional, and although this Calabrian character has some negative aspects, from a cinematographic point of view it is capable of making everything, animate or inanimate, alive and vibrant!
Q: What inspires you to pick up your camera? What kind of stories appeal to you?
A: I am fascinated by the event more than by the narrative. In fact, I consider Il Buco as a cinematic experience before a cinematic narration. This is why I am attracted to places and human activities that manage to retain their experiential character all the way into the cinema, allowing the audience to experience emotions in the first person without the mediation of the characters.
Q: What’s next for you? Do you plan for your future films to be in the same vein as your previous works i.e. slow cinema-esque, nature-centric?
A: I cannot say whether the definition of slow-cinema is the most appropriate for the kind of work I do. Slow-cinema makes me think of a reassuring stillness, and this does not correspond to what I want to achieve when I make a film.
Certainly I am convinced that the duration of shots is a delicate and incredibly important issue: it is precisely through duration that the viewer is able to appropriate the images of the film and build an emotional relationship with them. The relationship between the spectator and the work is the center of my research and it is the aspect that I am interested in continuing to probe.
Catch Il Buco at Perspectives Film Festival 2022 here. (link: https://perspectivesfilmfestival.com/film/il-buco/)
Our 2022 articles offered a selection across four broad categories to facilitate your perusal. This article was part of the DISCUSS category: To read more thoughts by the directors of our programmed films. For the inquisitive and filmmakers.