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Review: ‘Le Quattro Volte’

A New Kind of Italian Neo-Realism

Above: Giuseppe Fuda as the shepherd in "Le Quattro Volte."

You can't get any further away from "Transformers 3" than Michelangelo Frammartino's "Le Quattro Volte" (opening July 1 at Reading Gaslamp Cinemas). And that's a good thing.

Sometimes you crave fast food and sometimes you need slow food that does more than just satisfy your hunger, it also feeds your soul. "Le Quattro Volte" is cinematic slow food. It takes its time, is meticulous in its presentation, carefully considers the experience it provides, and then serves up a satisfying and nourishing feast.

Even more than the current "The Tree of Life," "Le Quattro Volte" eschews conventional narrative and dialogue to tell a story almost exclusively through images. The film is in Italian but because there is practically no dialogue, the rare spoken word is not translated. And that's fine. Frammartino communicates beautifully with just his images.

The title translates as "Four Times." The press materials inform me that the film was "inspired by Pythagoras’ belief in four-fold transmigration — by which the soul is passed from human to animal to vegetable to mineral." I probably wouldn't have guessed that but upon reflection the film does play out as a meditation on the cycle of life as revealed through the daily rituals of life in a small southern Italian village in Calabria.

The film begins and ends with the local ritual of making coal and images of ash and smoke, invoking the phrase "ashes to ashes, dust to dust." And in a sense what we do through the film is follow one soul through four successive stages of life or existence. So we begin with the old goat herder who soon passes. But then a goat is born just as he's laid to rest. Then we witness a majestic old tree brought down and eventually transformed into wood coal. All this translates into an unbroken cycle of rituals and traditions in this village, and a sense of how life

"Le Quattro Volte"

Lorber Films

Above: "Le Quattro Volte"

Frammartino's film is documentary like in the sense that it doesn't feel like he is intruding on what's happening in the small town. Yet there's definitely the feeling of a crafted narrative going on. Take a an 8-minute single shot that observes one tiny road in the village from high up. The camera pans slowly back and forth, capturing all the activity from a priest trying to get by a barking dog to a truck rolling down a hill and knocking down a fence so that the herd of goats can take over the village. The shot may seem like casual observation yet everything feels perfectly timed out. The truck starts to roll just as the camera pans away and we hear the crash off screen only to pan back just as the goats are escaping. It's a small drama played out within one graceful shot. It perfectly conveys the events and rhythms of this tiny world.

"La Quattro Volte" (unrated and in Italian but with no subtitles and none needed) is an exquisitely crafted art film. And it is definitely designed as an art film, as something poetic, thoughtful, and provocative. It's also funny, charming, touching, and a pleasure to watch.

Companion viewing: "The Tree of Life," "The Tree of Wooden Clogs," "Cave of the Yellow Dog"

Comments

Avatar for user 'Missionaccomplished'

Missionaccomplished | July 8, 2011 at 11:55 a.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

Hey Beth, so what did you think about THE TREE OF LIFE?

I don't understand about this comparison to 2001. Yes, Trumbull was involved with both, but it's only Claudia Puig of USA TODAY, saying that. I mean, it's less metaphysical than 2001; less symbolic than PERSONA, less frustratingly incomprehensible than L'ANNEE DERNIER A MARIENBAD, less non-linear than IRRIVERSIBLE or MOMENTO, dialogue less cryptic than the Antonioni trilogy, and less eye-poppingly visual than Tarkovsky's STALKER!!!

Have I covered it all? So what's left? A bunch of well-photographed hooey if you ask me!

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Avatar for user 'Beth Accomando'

Beth Accomando, KPBS Staff | July 14, 2011 at 6:03 p.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

I loved TREE OF LIFE. The 2001 comparison was probably just because of the origin of life/dawn of man. I think it was best at giving us a scrapbook of memories of a family's life and using that as a jumping off point for a deeper discussion of ideas about life, love, faith, grace. I was impressed by how much he could convey without dialogue or conventional narrative structure.

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Avatar for user 'JeanRZEJ'

JeanRZEJ | July 15, 2011 at 11:08 p.m. ― 3 years, 4 months ago

I loved it. Immensely. The other people in my audience weren't so enthused. A third of them stuck around 'til the end, though, so that's got to count for something.

What resonated most with me was this strange feeling of identification with the animals in the film in that their behaviors were so oddly familiar, almost human, except perhaps more inherently steadfast. Goats walk mere minutes out of the womb - no room for camera tricks. Their shenanigans are as pointless and hilarious as any toddler on a mission, albeit without the inevitable crying fit. Within this context the subsequent display of frailty by the goat was all the more impactful, it intensified my empathy in oddly unexpected way, and the inevitability of its fate would have been unbearable had the goat not soon wandered to its accompanying context facing the tree whose sturdiness couldn't be questioned after a few cuts spanning seasons barely revealing a sway, let alone a mortal weakness. If the steadfastness of the goat impressed me so - you would think that the tree would impress me more, no? And the frivolity of the human rituals that result in its death? Maybe a little bit. Maybe I'm considering eating more goat and less vegetation out of respect for the stronger living being. At any rate, I love it when a film opens up these sorts of peculiar and wholly singular experiences without dictating which form they will necessarily take. And I didn't even mention the dog! Perhaps you could infer through the ether that my favorite shot in the film was when the weakened man can no longer go on, as a steady flow of goats creates an entrancing stream of furry fluidity, and the dog recognizes his struggles and patiently returns to wait on him - all framed within the lush greenery of a narrow forest path. So wonderful. I don't want to know what those other people (didn't) saw (see).

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Avatar for user 'PMG'

PMG | January 11, 2012 at 3:27 a.m. ― 2 years, 10 months ago

Hi Leaves

Yeah it was all lovely and stuff, but I think they deliberately isolated that little goat and let it die or suffer anxiety and isolation at least so they could make their existential little ramble...I didn't like that

hell is OTHER people :):)

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