The Hole

The Hole is a film set in the 1960s Italian countryside about a cave being explored for the first time by an academic contingent.

First things first. This film is a landscape. It’s not about the people, it’s not a portrait. The entire film the only thing that is subtitled is a piece of television shown before the title card. Human discussion is not subtitled, anymore than the cows lowing or the birds singing would be.

Secondly, the film’s pace is suited for the cave as the main character. This is not a film about human rush and bustle. It is about an event in the life of this cave, and its pacing is of the soft harmony of the valley, and the curious and cautious exploration of the explorers. I tell you this so you will adjust your expectations accordingly, because once you relax into it, this film is quietly beautiful.

The film begins with a shot from within the cave, looking out at the dawning sky. The film is shot from the cave’s perspective, with the humans peering in, rather than over their shoulder peering down into the cave. The film is broken up into the legs of their journey across days and nights. It is not about their chat at camp or their personal interrelationships. When I say the film is about a cave being explored I mean exactly that, no more, no less. This is not the backdrop for a human drama. This is about the cave’s first experience of being documented and mapped by studious visitors.

There is a second plotline following an elderly herder who watches over the valley in which the cave sits. He is unnamed and has no subtitles either, but his inclusion emphasises the small span of human life compared to the land. He is shown going back to his hut in the valley, with no electricity or running water, living a way of life that has remained unchanged for countless generations. People rise and fall like flowers each season, but the cave has remained for thousands of years.

Equally as his twilight dwindles into night, we are reminded of ourselves as part of nature, obeying its times for growth and times for decay. The hole for him is the grave he will soon be in, as natural as the cave formed in the valley below.

As the spelunkers squeeze into the tight coffin-like crevices of the last few feet of the long descent, I held my breath at human fragility. This too could easily be their graves. But this is not about the drama of life-threatening peril, but the ever-present reminder of our own mortality. We are but visitors here. It is what makes their attempt at mapping this ancient structure at once so noble and so hubristic; they are so dwarfed by this enormous and ageless abyss that to try, in its face, to create a record for generations to come, seems so defiantly optimistic.

The Hole is a different kind of film in terms of pacing and tone than you might be used to, but it invites you to just sit and watch, to see a piece of the world, to experience its existence.