Le Quattro Volte

Monday, September 10

Davis Theatre, Whanganui Regional Museum

Michelangelo Frammartino • Italy/Germany/Switzerland • 2010


88 mins • G cert

A rustic village in the mountains of Calabria is the setting for this wonderful film, a wordless yet spellbinding take on a way of life as old as the elements.
"Fresh and ravishingly poetic" — LA Times
An idyllic village in Italy's mountainous region of Calabria is the setting for Le Quattro Volte, an exquisitely filmed take on the cycles of life. In four parts, like its title ("four times"), it opens with a shepherd tending his goats, then shifts focus to one goat in particular, the tree under which he seeks shelter, and the industrialised fate of that plant. AO Scott of The New York Times writes: "(Its) view of nature is among the most profound, expansive and unsettling I have ever encountered on film. There is virtually no dialogue, yet the film is far from silent: the rustling of trees, the sounds of agricultural labor, the barking of a dog and in particular the cries of goats supply a meaning that transcends words, while Mr. Frammartino's eye for both comedy and mystery produces compositions that are so strange and memorable that they seem to reinvent the very act of perception." — Lorber

"Le Quattro Volte, an idiosyncratic and amazing new film… is so full of surprises — nearly every shot contains a revelation, sneaky or overt, cosmic or mundane — that even to describe it is to risk giving something away… In four chapters… Mr Frammartino successively chronicles the earthly transit and material transmutation of an old man, a young goat, a tree and a batch of charcoal. Each being or thing is examined with such care and wit that you become engrossed in the moment-to-moment flow of cinematic prose, only at the end grasping the epic scope and lyrical depth of what you have seen, which is more or less all of creation."
— A.O. Scott, NY Times

"What a pleasure to welcome a true original. Here's a wonderful film about life, the universe and everything. It's captivating, touching, wryly humorous, mysterious, intriguing and uplifting. It's set in rural Calabria in the depths of Italy, there's no dialogue, and it stars an old man, the world's cleverest collie, lots of goats, a tree and… a pile of charcoal. True, this sounds suspiciously like a piss-take on arthouse pretentiousness, but you'll just have to trust us: the charcoal really is key.
Not that this is immediately apparent from the get-go, since writer-director Frammartino only gradually unfurls his secrets. It starts with peasants enigmatically bashing a huge smouldering pile of ash, the thump-thump laid over the plain white-on-black title card like a heartbeat. Le Quattro Volte translates as "The Four Times", maybe even "The Four Turns", so we're left to ponder on that. Cut to an elderly goatherd who spends his time with his flock up on the hills, is clearly not in the best of health, and is treating himself with a solution of what turns out to be dust swept from the floor of the local church. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust then? Certainly, the film's not short on images of regeneration and renewal, as the small hilltop community's Easter festival brings the cast of a Passion Play, we see a baby goat coming into this world and taking its first hesitant steps… and then there's the tree, and the charcoal, of course…
Where exactly is all this going? There's not a conventional narrative as such, but the "Four Turns" allusion does make sense as the focus moves from man to animal to vegetable to mineral, the different elements combining to make the totality of the movie — just as they make the totality of everything else in this world, Frammartino seems to be reminding us.
Explaining it makes it sound aridly abstract, but watching it is pure delight, since the camera captures baby animals at play, the aforementioned collie strutting its stuff in a mind-boggling extended set-piece, the passing clouds and a tree persevering through winter, all shot in a way which is jolly, entrancingly beautiful and utterly heart-rending (nature is harsh, after all) from moment to moment. Naturally, as a viewer, you try to impose an interpretation on everything, but that seems to be the very point, since images of the Easter story, and indeed a more ancient folk festival seen later in the film, seem to hint at mankind's need for an overriding "story" explaining our place in the universe.
It's meditative and thought-provoking, yet hardly a difficult film, even if it's not quite like anything else you've ever seen. There'll be reminders of Kiarostami, or Gideon Koppel's Sleep Furiously, perhaps even Bresson's Au Hasard Balthazar, but no prior cinephile knowledge is required to get the most out of this beguiling and unique piece of cinema. Just an open mind. And an open heart."
- Trevor Johnston, Time Out