Aug 18, 2023
Daniel Contaldo, Hannah Swayze
Elia Nichols, Caterina Fornaciai, Shelton Lindsay
Hannah Swayze and Daniel Contaldo’s Caverna is a surrealist work about an experimental theater workshop in Florence, Italy. We follow two particular students, Giorgia (Giorgia Tomasi) and Lorenzo (Lorenzo Passaniti), who are pushed by a daring teacher named Alba to unleash their inner thoughts and fears through acting exercises in front of the group. If that sounds like a movie about a bunch of theater kids wandering about a stage as they talk about their feelings, don’t worry. It’s not that kind of movie.
Instead, Caverna hovers between reality and fantasy as dreams, desires, and nightmares are portrayed in a rather trippy fashion as the film flips back and forth between the actors and their “scenes”. What is real and what is acting blurs as both feed into one another. Is there really a rad-looking cyclops stomping about the wooded areas of Florence, chasing a princess? Probably not, but if it looks, sounds, and feels real, who’s to say that it isn’t? The same holds true for the rest of the mythology-infused moments of fantasy that are weaved throughout.
Caverna is about how the deepest parts of one’s psyche often fuel the art that they unleash upon the world. It is not the first film to do this. Nor will it be the last. It then becomes a question of whether or not its somewhat-psychedelic arthouse notions are enticing enough to draw you into its web. This is very much a niche piece of filmmaking, with a heavily disjointed nature that can and will push many a viewer away. If you’re inclined to welcome such filmmaking, however, then there’s a lot to enjoy here.
Complementing its wilder storytelling tactics is a lot of striking imagery. The cinematography – both in the fantasy and “real world” sequences – is sumptuous throughout, often giving the film a lush and vibrant look. In terms of pacing, it never overstays its welcome, which has ultimately resulted in a runtime that barely exceeds an hour. That might be a turn-off to those looking for something grander, but it also means that it avoids the bloat that plagues a lot of modern arthouse fare. Swayze & Contaldo clearly know that not everything needs to be 2 ½ hours long. Caverna might not knock your socks off, but if you’re open to its imagination, you’ll be in for an interesting ride.