A Rumination On Cinema
by Vincent Quek, originally published by Perspectives Film Festival 2022
Time is life’s ultimate currency. What we do with it – often trading it for a manmade currency like money – usually requires rational thought on a constant basis. Life’s currency is not fair from person to person, for some have more than others, and even the ones with seemingly more time may have depreciative qualities, for example when sickness and accidents rear their unwelcome head, at any time during our lives.
Movies traffic with your time. It offers you a measure of utility for your investment in it. For x number of minutes, it can entertain you, enable your escape from whatever else usually occupies you, or even educate you. Whatever the end effects, cinema will transport you to its maker’s imagination, or even sometimes to sleep(!) should the movie not be able to sustain your interest.
Figure 1 The main still from Michelangelo Frammartino’s latest "Il Buco"
One of the newest titles in our lineup – Il Buco (or The Hole, in Italian) by Italian director Michelangelo Frammartino understands this investment to a profound degree. Premiering in Perspectives Film Festival this year – a festival whose theme is also “time” – it ostensibly tells the story of a 1961 expedition by a group of young speleologists to a southern Italian Calabrian cave system, which through their intrepid explorations, was revealed to house the 3rd deepest cave in the world. But in the same movie, Frammartino also weaves in the story of a nameless cattle shepherd who watches these cave explorers from his home on the hills, at the tail end of his own life. He has observed the same cave system that so fascinates these young speleologists perhaps for his entire life. It is the juxtaposition of this caving expedition and this cattle shepherd’s life epilogue that the titular subject Il Buco becomes a metaphysical allegory for the journeys of discovery one embarks on during their time, be it physical, emotional, or spiritual, into the literal body or the body of the earth.
For the hole is a symbol of the unknown, and every human quests with their available albeit unknown amount of allotted time, to learn all we can to fill in the answers towards life’s biggest questions. With Il Buco, Frammartino reminds us, that at the end of the day, explorations with your time are not wasted. It does not matter what motivates the cavers – are they driven by visceral curiosity, the promise of scientific and geologic accomplishment or sheer ego? Frammartino eschews any sense of personal back stories. Conversations during the movie between characters are sparse and deliberately left unsubtitled, but even an Italian speaker would not be able to discern any words exchanged as any dialogue blends into the sound mix as naturally as the environmental sounds in the movie. At the beginning of Il Buco, audiences are treated to the only explicitly subtitled portion of the film, which is newsreel footage of a television crew’s ascent of the then-newly constructed Pirelli Tower in Milan, still standing today. The news anchor proclaims wonder at the ability to gaze into the building, and off into the distance from their observational deck of an elevator outside the building, smoothly reaching heights of manmade scale. Funny then, but no less significant, is how the rest of the movie tracks a group’s progression into uncharted depths of natural, geologic scale.
Figure 2 Charting the depths of the cave in Il Buco
When speaking about time, I am fully aware that my company Anticipate Pictures too, traffics in your time. We offer these time sinks of content products, each seemingly longer than the last(!) (although I am happy to inform you that Il Buco ranks amongst some of the shortest movies on our lineup, at a compact 93 minutes.) On top of your investment of time, we even ask for an investment of money – something many people trade uncountable amounts of their life’s currency for – to access these products. Therefore, I take extraordinary care to acquire these products that hopefully you will find a good return on your investments. All 60 of our movies acquired over the last 6 years hopefully demonstrate this quality of care.
I admit picking up Il Buco for theatrical distribution in Singapore was not an easy decision. Part of it was the problem of timing. When I first screened the movie, it was during the middle of the pandemic, and screener watching was restricted to computer screens. I have a laptop with a 13” screen, and this film’s impact really depends on how immersed its viewer is at the point of the encounter. Naturally, the all-encompassing cinema hall would be perfect for a movie like this, but as industry professionals without this luxury, we are supposed to extrapolate what we see on our laptop to the cathedrals of cinema halls, and this, even with years of experience, is something very hard to do, and films like Il Buco naturally suffer from cavalier laptop viewing. I did note that the movie was very special, but failing to grasp its theatrical quality, hastily turned the movie down at first.
Figure 3 The vast beauty of the Italian landscape in "Il Buco"
It was only after screening it again on a much larger screen – alas, still not in an actual cinema, but on a 65” TV – that I was struck by the sensitivity of Frammartino’s vision, and sold by it. Il Buco is ultimately his intellectual exploration of space in the bounded limits of our time here on Earth, told of the Earth, from within the Earth. The movie’s imagery is sweeping and grandiose in its portrayal of southern Italy’s beautiful Calabrian landscape, yet small and intimate especially when his protagonists squeeze into cracks to access ever-deeper caverns, or in the blink-and-you-will-miss it pulse on the dorsal of a shepherd’s hand. There is humour too, from a curious horse and one misplaced football. But overarchingly, it is his respect for your time as an audience if – and should you choose to – take this trip with him into Il Buco, that is the greatest mark of a considerate, sensitive contemporary filmmaker ripe for your discovery. Give Michelangelo Frammartino’s Il Buco 93 minutes of your time, and it will show you the world.
Read an interview that Perspectives Film Festival did with Michelangelo Frammartino, Director of Il Buco here.