Le Quattro Volte (Michaelangelo Frammartino 2010) – DVD review
I was randomly sent a review disc without asking for one, which is usually a bad sign. Here, however, my scepticism melted away – unexpectedly, this is one of the films of the year.
Le Quattro Volte
(Michaelangelo Frammartino, It, 2010)
It’s a tough sell, but stick with it. Timeless, transcendent and surprisingly funny, it’s the missing link between Terrence Malick and You’ve Been Framed – with goats!
Here’s a classic example of why you should always finish watching the films you start. After an apparently ponderous, pointless opening act I was yearning to leave the company of Le Quattro Volte. And then… by alchemy, or a miracle, or the slow, patient hand of a master filmmaker, it gradually transformed into something life-affirming and essential.
It’s not the easiest of watches, as Frammartino introduces us to the quiet, uneventful life of an elderly goatherder in the Calabria region of Italy. Utterly beautiful and serene, it’s the kind of landscape – all hills and grass and gentle breezes – which in real-life you could happily sit and bask in for hours, but one which could make you fidgety after only a few minutes of watching on-screen. And Frammartino holds the pretence for nearly half an hour that this is going to be simply a film about the goatherder going about his business – but remember, the title translates as The Four Times, and the goatherder’s is only the first.
What emerges is a portrait of a region seemingly untouched by progress, in which man is at one with his environment – unless you’re a classics scholar, you might miss that the title comes from Pythagoras’ assertion that nature repeats four times: as man, as animal, as vegetable, as mineral. Aptly, the film could have been made at any point over the past hundred years. Frammartino avoids dialogue, save for whispered prayers and thank yous, and the occasional hubbub of a crowd. At first it feels gimmicky and pretentious; by the end, it couldn’t have been done any other way. There’s simply no need for talk, and removing it allows us to concentrate on the ambient sounds of Calabria – the bleating of goats, the tolling of the bells on their neck, the rustle of leaves – expertly mixed until it achieves a musical purity.
Frammartino has studied at the altar of Bresson and Tarkovsky, for sure, but his ascetic style doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s austere. Indeed, he allows a sly, deceptive wit to creep up on you unawares, until a film that threatens to be morose will have you breaking into laughter. The turning point is an audacious five-minute take slowly panning up and down a hillside road as villagers prepare to put on a Passion Play. It begins as an absurdist silent comedy, as Roman centurions arrive on a pick-up truck, and ends in anarchy.
After which, the entire film shifts from observational long-takes, to dextrously edited anthropomorphism, as Frammartino gives the goats extraordinarily vivid inner lives simply by filming them, and stitching the results together for comedy value. The themes are simple enough – in essence, this is The Lion King’s Circle of Life remade as neo-realist art-house movie – but the sheer originality of the conception, and the unassuming bravura of the direction, is intoxicating. Frammartino makes unlikely stars out of his goats…and there are even weirder protagonists for the final third of the film, which shifts gears again to become almost a documentary of Calabrian traditions.
Tagged Best Films of 2011