- Directed by Federico Olivetti -
Lisa, a young girl wandering around through the forests and fields surrounding her countryside house, stumbles upon a hole in the ground. Cautioned by her mother, she does not jump in, but convinces her visiting friend Michele to investigate. When the boy emerges from below the ground with a look of terror on his face, Lisa is even more mystified and attracted by the allure of the hole, and tries to find out what it is that Michele actually saw inside.
A sense of mystery and unease is maintained throughout the entirety of this roughly 14-minute long short film, and many questions are left unanswered. Director Federico Olivetti masterfully gives a few small hints and lets the imagination of the audience do the rest and fill in the blanks as they wish, almost teasing with some long and slow camera movements which raise tension and prompt the expectation of a culminating point, which never comes. In fact, the entire cinematography is a work of art: the style applied is brilliant and fits the theme like a glove.
Static frames reminiscent of Stanley Kubrick are used both inside the almost maze-like interiors of the house, as well as outside. Many of the exterior shots give a sense of symmetry: the road towards the metal gate, the forest pathway, while nature itself, as a whole, is treated almost like a sort of separate entity. The soundtrack – Debussy – is perfectly dosed and used in key areas in order to amplify the bizarreness of the hole and its overarching influence, while silence punctuates the rising tension and uneasiness.
Unfortunately, one element keeps ‘Sottoterra’ from being a true masterpiece: the acting. We recognize the difficulty in finding young actors that successfully identify with their personas and act in a believable fashion, and yet we cannot ignore the fact that the performances from both actors involved here are sub-par. Lisa’s character just doesn’t seem to be intrigued by the hole in a ground in any way, while her short playing session with Michele seems extremely awkward and artificial. Fortunately, this awkwardness also comes to the film’s advantage, especially since Michele behaves in a strange manner even before entering the hole, thus casting suspicions over the mental sanity of his character.
All in all, ‘Sottoterra’ is a remarkable and extremely good project. Its fantastic cinematography blends extremely well with its static nature and sparks a sense of curiosity that remains unhindered after the credits roll. It is Federico Olivetti’s great merit to make a film about what would otherwise be a grossly mundane object feel so engrossing and unsettling. This short is definitely a great achievement.