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Le Quattro Volte

April 29, 2011
Le Quattro Volte

I have been struggling all evening to even find words appropriate to describe Michelangelo Frammertino’s Le Quattro Volte. The best I can do is to throw adjectives like “amazing” and “powerful” and “moving” and “profound” at the page, and leave it at that.

The film not narrative, and so comedy and drama and other such concepts don’t apply. It’s not anti-narrative, in the tradition of Dali and Buñuel in Un Chien Andalou. It’s not a documentary, since there isn’t really a particular subject. There are no real actors, only one particular character (who is somewhat incidental, in a way), no story, no commentary, no dialogue. I’ve never seen anything like it.

What it has is life. Where Another Year just watched what happened in the lives of one British couple and a few of their friends, Le Quattro Volte strips even more away. We watch scenes in the life of a small Calabrian village as it plays out more or less the way it has done for centuries. Inspired by a supposedly Pythagorean philosophy of transmigration — a fact which is only really explained in the trailer, since the film itself has no dialogue or narration — we can discern four distinct phases and perspectives.

First is an old goatherd. We watch him tending his flock in the fields, driving them along the paths home, milking and caring for them. We watch him get up and go to bed. We watch him fuss over a pot of unruly snails. And we watch him die.

Next is a kid goat. We watch it be born and take its first step. We watch it roughhouse with the other kids. We watch it get lost on the way to the fields. We watch it take shelter between the roots of a tall tree.

Next is that tree, standing as the seasons turn. We watch as the villagers cut it down and drag it home. We watch them strip it of its branches and set it upright for some sort of celebration. We watch them bring it down again and cut it into logs.

And finally we watch as the villagers build a mound from the tree and its branches, cover the mount with pitch, and start a slow fire inside to convert the wood into charcoal. We have moved down the scale from human, to animal, to plant, to stone.

The whole time, all we do is watch. And for the most part, nothing much happens. But, amazingly, it’s not stultifying. It quickly draws us in, laughing and mourning, and immersing ourselves in the experience. It engages us emotionally, without seeming to make any effort. It invites us to watch deeply and intently, and to take this watchfulness into the rest of our lives.

There are so many possible interpretations and impressions that might be taken away from Le Quattro Volte that I am hesitant to go into any significant depth about my own, lest I taint your perceptions. I can only urge you to go to a theater if it’s showing near you — it certainly will not show in mainstream venues since it puts the “art” in “art-house” — or to get a copy on DVD as soon as it’s available. Do it even if you’re impatient and given to boredom. Do it especially if you’re impatient and given to boredom. Let yourself relax and let the images and impressions wash over you. And then take this way of looking out into the rest of your life.

Worth It: resoundingly yes, if you can be patient.
Bechdel Test: inapplicable. This time I’m just going to opt out entirely.

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