Le Quattro Volte (Lorber Films, NR)

If you’re willing to settle back and let your mind follow where director Michelangelo Frammartino wants to take you, you will be rewarded with a rich cinematic experience.

 

Le Quattro Volte is perhaps the most peaceful film you will see all year. Although its subject matter is weighty—nothing less than the circle of life, death, and new life—the experience of viewing the film is intensely calming and reassuring. If you’re willing to settle back and let your mind follow where director Michelangelo Frammartino wants to take you, you will be rewarded with a rich cinematic experience.

As the film opens, the screen is white with smoke that is revealed to come from charcoal being produced by the ancient earth-mound method. We observe an elderly shepherd (Giuseppe Fuda) leading his flocks to pasture and trading a bottle of milk for a packet of dust (which most likely includes ash from the charcoal) from the church floor. He dissolves this in water each night and consumes it like medicine, believing it is keeping him alive. A goat kid is born, struggles to its feet and is soon large enough to be weaned. While accompanying the herd to pasture it gets separated and seeks shelter under a majestic fir tree. The seasons change from fall to winter to spring and the tree is cut down and brought back to the town as part of the centuries-old Pita festival. After the festival the tree is cut up and converted to charcoal, completing the cycle.

Calabria, a mountainous region in the southernmost part of mainland Italy, is a character in the film as much as the human and animal actors. It’s the poorest part in Italy and in rural areas also among the least modern. For instance while most of Italy uses natural gas for heating in rural Calabria charcoal is still the norm and it is produced using a method dating back to ancient times. While another filmmaker might have emphasized the region’s poverty and lack of development Frammartino (whose ancestors come from Calabria) takes the opposite approach, clearly communicating his respect for the region and those who continue to live there.

We have ample opportunity to admire the countryside as Le Quattro Volte is composed of many long takes, primarily in long or medium-long shots, but this film is not a documentary. Rather it is a scripted feature film that incorporates local people and traditional practices in the manner of a Robert Flaherty docufiction in order to express the philosophy of the director.

Pythagoras also lived in Calabria and Le Quattro Volte alludes to the Pythagorean belief in metempsychosis or the transmigration of souls as well as the interconnectedness of the four realms of life: human, animal, vegetable and mineral. Frammartino paraphrases Pythagoras in his director’s notes: "Each of us has four lives inside us which fit into one another. Man is mineral because his skeleton is made of salt; man is also vegetable because his blood flows like sap; he is animal in as much as he is endowed with motility and knowledge of the outside world. Finally, man is human because he has the gifts of will and reason."

Le Quattro Volte is not for everyone: there’s no dialogue and little in the way of action, just gorgeous cinematography (by Andrea Locatelli) and rich ambient sound which together tell a story of great profundity almost without seeming to do so. | Sarah Boslaugh

 

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