Le Quattro Volte
Directed by Michelangelo Frammartino
So-called “slow cinema,” perhaps stoked on by the Romanian boom of the last few years, is quickly becoming the standard mode of expression for up-and-coming European arthouse directors who want to make a dent on the international prestige circuit. Of them, Michelangelo Frammartino’s breakthrough feature has been one of the most contentious. An 88-minute rumination ostensibly focused on the cyclical nature of existence as represented by Pythagoras theory of transmigration, Le Quattro Volte is a four-part, essentially dialogue-free excursion into ideas that features a surprisingly wide range of tonal expression – maybe too wide.
After a brief glimpse of what’s to come, the film opens on an aging shepherd, a sickly man who goes about his daily rituals and takes careful care of his sizeable herd of goats. His lonely death, which closes off the first segment, signals the film’s approach: one strata of existence is explored until it ends. Once the shepherd passes, we begin to follow the flock itself, particularly as represented by a newborn, whose moment of birth provides the film with its most pointed image. The third segment concerns a tree, whose fate is tied to the shepherd’s village. Lastly, we focus in on a heap of steaming coal.
Beyond the “circle of life” aspect, there is nothing profound to be divined from Le Quattro Volte beyond the simple power of its images, which range from the humorous and a little superficial (the goat-based misadventures of the second segment), to the tragic (the conclusion of the same segment), to the nearly stagnant imagery that dominates the last half-hour. Volte places form above all, which speaks highly of Frammartino’s conviction but can’t overshadow the fact that much of thwe film’s back half feels like it was nicked from Terrence Malick’s b-reels. Luckily, Frammartino has the good sense not only to clearly lay out his thesis, but also to state it in a relatively efficient manner. Many filmmakers whose work falls under the “slow” denotation seem to believe, perhaps arbitrarily, that their aesthetic must be accompanied by bloated runtimes. Frammartino seems to know better, and along with his formal discipline, that might be reason enough to keep an eye on him.