By Don Simpson | July 21, 2011
Director: Michelangelo Frammartino
Writer: Michelangelo Frammartino
Starring: Giuseppe Fuda, Bruno Timpano, Nazareno Timpano
There have been very few films from the last decade that have relied solely upon the audience’s own philosophical musings in order to provide the images on the silver screen with any meaning, but writer-director Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le Quattro Volte does exactly that. For all intents and purposes, Le Quattro Volte is a silent film with no dialogue except for the occasional goat bleat. Andrea Locatelli’s cinematography remains relatively motionless, far away from its subjects; and Benni Atria and Maurizio Grillo’s editing is extremely patient, to say the least. The unabashed simplicity of form is borderline experimental; in fact, it says an awful lot about Le Quattro Volte that I did not suspect anything was wrong when I watched half of the film with a mismatched audio track and the other half with no audio at all.
Frammartino’s one and only goal appears to be to transport the audience to the remote mountain town of Caulonia located in Italy’s Calabria province, not far from the Ionian Sea; what we do once he delivers us there is completely up to us. If there is a narrative, it exists only in the passing the baton from one “subject” to the next. We begin with an aged goatherd (Giuseppe Fuda), with whom we spend the most time; we move onward to follow a newly born kid (goat, that is), then to a fir tree, and eventually to the smoke billowing forth from a scarazzi (a hemispherical furnace constructed with straw and ash used to bake wood into charcoal). The film’s title (which translates to “the four times” or “phases”) references a quote from the School of Pythagoras, meaning that each of us has four distinct lives within our one life; but the title could also be construed to represent four elements (man, animal, plant and mineral) and the four seasons. Le Quattro Volte could also be read as a meditation on the cyclicality of nature.
Le Quattro Volte is as pure and unfiltered as cinema can get, relying solely upon the ethnographically observational conventions that date back to the advent of the cinematic form, when Louis Lumière — and to a lesser extent, Robert Flaherty — was laying the groundwork for documentary filmmaking. Frammartino’s film is certainly not for everyone; but if there is one reason to watch Le Quattro Volte, it is a masterfully constructed, awe-inducing, eight-minute single-shot in which the goatherd’s dog attempts to direct various villagers to his master’s apartment, eventually releasing a herd of goats into the village to get their attention.