EBFS has gone to the limits of it’s research capabilities (Google then Wikipedia) to discover that Le Quattro Volte translates as “the four lives”. The four lives derive from a theory put forward by Pythagoras, who lived in Calabria where this film is set, that within each of us is human, animal, vegetable and mineral. These four lives are explored carefully and brilliantly by Michelangelo Frammartino in this poetic, moving and thoughtful piece of slow Italian cinema.
First, we follow an aged goatherd through his daily routine through the dusty, crumbling streets of Caulonia and out into the wild, rolling hills of the Calabrian countryside, just the bells of his goats, the bark of his dog and the hacking cough he appears to be dying from as audible company. Then, following his death (weirdly, the film’s only comic sequence, sort of) we transfer to the life of a newborn goat who finds itself left behind and lost, with all the biblical connatations of a parable firmly in place. Then a mighty tree is felled, used in a local festival and chopped into kindling……..which in turn is burnt down into charcoal and sold to the residents of the village. See? Human, animal, vegetable and finally mineral.
Frammartino barely moves the camera, a slow pan here, a slight drift there. Instead he picks out images that are evocative and mesmeric. Swirling clouds, a tangled glade, dust motes dancing in a church (our goatherd drinks this dust, dissolved in water every night as a sort of panacea) and plenty of beautifully composed shots of the quiet rural life, it’s far reaching traditions and winding streets of Caulonia. An eight minute shot comprising a barking dog, an Easter ceremony and finally the herd of goats being released to run loose through the village is the kind of slow burning bravura only the very confident possess. Frammartino trusts himself to deliver, firmly believing in his vision and the ideas he is attempting to put across. He succeeds.
In utilising no discernible dialogue, Frammartino, himself a former artist, has crafted a universal tale shorn from the constraints of languag barriers or subtitles, using well constructed, stark imagery to masterfully portray the cycles of life and our influence on them. Throw a stick at Le Quattro Volte and a meticulously composed, visually beautiful shot will almost certainly be hit. In the end though, a view of an out of focus goat reveals itself to be the most important, highlighting the ephemeral nature of humanity and the toil this earth extracts from it.
We still want to know what happened to the dog though….