This series is inspired by the Movie Lottery blog, whose author is picking DVD titles from a hat in order to decide which films to watch. I’ve selected another one from the hat to watch and present my review below.
I’ve already reviewed one modern silent film this week (Blancanieves) and though this Italian oddity isn’t a silent film per se, it does nevertheless eschew verbal communication. Again, this isn’t unheard of in European art cinema — I recall the Hungarian film Hukkle (2002) doing likewise, and to a certain extent Tati’s Play Time (1967) — and may even make sense given the many sources of funding these films must negotiate to get made, where the alternative is a mess of different languages and actors (the classic “Europudding”). However, it does naturally put the focus on visual methods of storytelling, and at this Le quattro volte shows a great deal of inventiveness.
As the title suggests (it translates as “the four turns”), this is a film of four acts. From what I’ve read, the filmmaker’s inspiration was Pythagorean philosophy, specifically the idea of transmigration of souls (metempsychosis), from human to animal to plant to mineral. We are shown at the start an elderly and rheumatic goatherd in an Italian hillside village going about his daily business with great difficulty, while taking a sort of folk remedy (dust from the church floor) as medicine before going to bed. The second act focuses on a baby goat born in his flock, then on a tree cut down for a local celebration, and finally on its transformation into charcoal used for heating such houses as the one the goatherd lives in. The implication, of course, is that the goatherd’s soul has somehow been transferred to these different vessels, though (the film being without verbal communication) this is never quite so plainly stated.
Perhaps this is for the best: such metaphyical ideas never do come across well as dialogue. The joy of the film is in all the visual details, recording the goatherd’s everyday life, his interactions with other villagers (selling his milk door-to-door, getting the holy dust for his cough), and then the skittish nimbleness of the goats, and the village rituals which make use of the tree. Perhaps most fascinating of all is the sequence showing how charcoal is made, something I had never before given any thought to.
There’s some wry humour too, not unlike in Tati’s film. A procession in which the villagers reenact Christ’s procession with the cross to Calvary is played out in extreme long-shot, with several dressed up as Romans, and one kid who is running to catch them up is put off-guard by the goatherd’s dog. This long sequence of around ten minutes’ duration is in fact masterfully put together, arriving just as we have serious doubts over the old man’s health, and involves some expert animal wrangling (the dog trying to raise attention around the town, then threatening the kid, running up the road after the procession then back to cause a van to crash into the goat enclosure, thus freeing the goats).
The film unfolds at a stately pace, long enough to get lost in the images, which thankfully are carefully chosen and composed. As a portrait of quotidian life in a rural community, it’s fascinating. The metaphysical elements are there for those who wish to ponder such things — it gives the mind something to do in the slower sections — but are never insisted upon, and as such Le quattro volte is a beautifully balanced little film.
Director/Writer Michelangelo Frammartino; Cinematographer Andrea Locatelli; Starring Giuseppe Fuda; Length 88 minutes.
Seen at home (TV), London, Sunday 14 July 2013.