The tunnels of an Armenian salt mine, 230 meters below the Earth’s surface, are home to an unusual kind of health clinic: a speleological therapeutic center. The theory that the mineral-rich air in salt mines can do wonders for human health comes from the Ancient Greeks. The young French-born director Hovig Hagopian has an Armenian background, and he shot this, his graduation work, in the stunning location of the Avan mine.
Hovig Hagopian doesn’t explore the broader context of speleotherapy, and he offers almost no direct explanation for what we see. He chooses instead to simply present the perpetual goings-on in this underground clinic, whose staff wear white coats and miner’s helmets. An air of magical realism runs through the atmospheric impressions: a walk through fluorescent-lit tunnels hewn from stone; a game of ping-pong in what appears to be a natural grotto, the table cast in a hellish light at the center of this shadowy realm; a morning exercise session in the caverns.