‘Le Quattro Volte’: Slow goat cinema at its very best

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La Quattro Volte

Directed by Michelangelo Frammartino

Screenplay by Michelangelo Frammartino

2010, Italy

A story about the cosmic connection between all things and a slow cinema document of the rural everyday, Italian director Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le Quattro volte (The Four Times) has its theatrical debut in Montreal this week after making the festival rounds from Cannes to TIFF to the Festival du nouveau cinema. The elemental mysticism that pervades Le Quattro Volte readily recalls that other 2010 arthouse standout, Apichatpong Weerasethakul’s Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall Past Lives. Far less enigmatic than its Thai counterpart, Le Quattro Volte still manages to avoid overly sentimental cliché and pays graceful homage to the notion of life as a cycle.

With beautifully composed static long shots that capture of the squalidness of the everyday and hybridized narratives that walk the line between documentary and fiction, Le Quattro Volte enters into a (slow) dialogue with the work of not only Joe Weerasethakul, but Lisandro Alonso and Jia Zhangke. This Italian contribution to the now-globalized slow cinema movement is set in the Calabrian hills, once the home of Pythagoras, the Ancient Greek mathematician and philosopher whose ideas about metempsychosis unfold in this story of the transmigration of an elderly goat herder’s soul to a goat to a tree to a sack of charcoal.

The film opens on the goat herder, and while the scenes with his flock seem to indicate a non-actor going about his daily routine, his activities are captured in pre-arranged compositions which give equal weight to both sound and visuals. Frammartino at first seems to be set on lulling us into the non-narrative drudgery of the everyday; interestingly, however, he soon introduces a fictional narrative arc involving the goatherder’s illness and his misguided attempt at self-medication. He tries to cure his unrelenting cough by procuring a daily dosage of dust taken from the floor of the village church – and punctuates his daily routine by dissolving the dust in water and drinking it down each night in between lengthy bouts of coughing.

The climax arrives when the goat herder discovers that his nightly package of dust has fallen from his pocket and is lost in the hills. After a fantastic one-take comedic episode involving a dog and a runaway truck which frees the goats from their roadside pen the next morning, we discover, through the eyes of his escaped goatherd, that the herder has all the while been on his deathbed. Whether the lack of sacred dust is to blame, or his psychological dependency on such a notion, or if this is simply a coincidence, is left to us to decide. As his goats’ curious faces slowly dissolve, the goat herder is interred in a tomb, and, after a wonderfully composed instant of sound design accompanied by a blackened screen, we move on to the life of a newborn goat. The film inches closer and closer to a documentary form as it traces the short life of the goat, followed by the felling of a tree which provided shelter for the goat after his separation from the herd, and the subsequent burning of the tree’s trunk for charcoal.

Le Quattro Volte is a film that manages to be both minimalist and maximalist in its narrative ambitions. Like Sophie Fiennes’ art documentary Over Your Cities Grass Will Grow

, which also played at FNC last year, Le Quattro Volte navigates the grand narrative of life on earth by directly engaging with the elements. Fiennes’ film shows sculptor Anselm Kiefer in the midst of producing grandiose artworks out of discarded industrial and natural resources; Frammartino creates a wordless commentary on the interconnectedness between rural village life and its dependence on the natural elements. From the nonstop bray of a lost goat to the musical clink of a rising charcoal pile to the ephemeral wisps of smoke beyond the village rooftops, Le Quattro Volte is sensual, elemental filmmaking at is very best.

– Lindsay Peters

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