Le Quattro Volte will mess with your perceptions. No hallucinogenic drug or psychedelic trip, this movie creates a heightened sense of reality by slowing actions and narrative down, simplifying them into only their base elements. Events happen quietly in this film, if they happen at all. A man traverses his village’s land. A goat is born, lives and dies. A mound of wood is burned into charcoal. These small things are magnified and intensified until they become casually monumental, a brushed confrontation with the ineffable scale of life and nature. It’s easy to come out of the film’s womb-like enclosure with the sense that everything around you is happening a long way off, moving too quickly.
Italian director Michelangelo Frammartino uses the barest of means to communicate a cyclical view of growth and life. Though the film lacks a strict narrative, the dominant driving force of the story and the philosophy is nature. More specifically, it’s the Calabria region in the south of Italy that plays the part, a mountainous area where the film’s tiny walled town is perched. Quattro Volte‘s first protagonist is a lone goatherd, an old Italian man whose craggy features often come to reflect the wrinkled nature around him. While the character, played by Giuseppe Fuda, goes about his daily routines of treading through the hills with his goats, a slow camera does leisurely pans across brushy green vistas while paying equal attention to the goatherd’s face and his slow progress through the natural world.
As the film progresses, the man passes, and we next receive a baby goat as our window into the world. The goat grows, playfully bucking with the other kids. Eventually, the goat is let out into the wider world, along with its older herd members. This leads to the goat’s passing as well, and a movement onto our final character: a tree, which, through a sensually filmed, ritualistic journey, is turned into charcoal and distributed to the village’s homes. There’s a symbolism here, hints of reincarnation, a holistic view of life and death, but this isn’t the Buddhism of Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter… and Spring. Quattro Volte is humanist, less invested in belief or doctrine than in sheer earthly experience. The film’s slow progress become synecdochic for the ebb and flow of all forms of life, a kind of dust-to-dust mentality that’s as applicable to us urbanites as it is for an Italian goatherd.
Quattro Volte‘s sense of pacing, slow but never prodding, always pregnant with significance, reminds me of Uncle Boonmee, another foreign indie film turned phenomenon. Yet at 88 minutes, Quattro Volte is a much more approachable exercise in consciousness expansion, though it lacks some of Boonmee‘s bizarre sense of humor. In both films, the camera stays back, preferring to let viewers choose their own ways to look, and to perceive. Watching a man make his way across a mountain, an ant crawl across treebark, or wood slowly burn, it’s fleetingly possible to understand that time is only what we tell it to be, a pool of possible experience rather than an ever-forward march.
Quattro Volte is currently playing at Quad Cinema, 34 West 13th Street in Manhattan.
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