Le Quattro Volte Review
Le Quattro Volte is the second feature film from Italian director Michelangelo Frammartino and it is a piece of work that is at once original, fascinating and unclassifiable. The story follows an assortment of characters including an elderly goat herder, the goats themselves and even a fir tree. However, to focus on a plot or give a synopsis would be something of a digression for a piece of work which cannot be outlined in such a straightforward manner.
Initially it appears that the film's protagonist is that of the elderly shepherd, as he and his dog take the herd back and forth from fields to a paddock near his home. The camera frequently studies the old man’s face in close detail and at great length, with the pictures from Frammartino never anything less than considered and precise. It is also entirely justified that each shot be described as a picture, with the camera completely static for the vast majority of the film. As a result, each shot is presented in a beautifully framed way, picturesque in the style of a postcard. The same shots are also constantly reused at a number of locations, particularly as times and seasons change.
This idea of rebirth and renewal is key to much of the film. The theme occurs frequently with the changing of the central character and even a reenactment of Jesus carrying a cross through the village, followed by a crowd (an image mirrored frequently by the shepherd and his goats). The thread of religion also runs throughout, especially evident with the old man, drinking blessed dust swept from the church in an effort to aid his ailing health (his frequent cough his only retort to the bleats of his herd).
Frammartino’s use of sound could be described as minimalist, there is no music and the film is almost completely dialogue free, but the use of the diegetic sound is employed to great effect. The incessant drone of the goat’s bells becomes almost like a white noise, while during one scene the movement and bleating of the animals is almost rhythmic. The detached quiet serves to make the desperate cries of an isolated goat surprisingly moving, whilst the shepherd carrying one of his animal’s bells helps to pre-empt the switch in focus to the newly born goat kid. This change of lead character occurs twice more with the fir tree and then charcoal, as the “Four Times” of the title becomes clearer and the ideas of reincarnation and animism become more apparent.
Frammartino allows for a film with a depth of ideas to be appreciated on a basic level with the sheer beauty of the work enough to entice most viewers. Superbly portrayed by a group of non-actors and well trained animals, it is frequently the stunning environment which takes centre stage. Thought-provoking, poignant and amusing, undoubtedly this is one of the most original and interesting pieces of cinema this year.