Le Quattro Volte (2010)
Director: Michelangelo Frammartino
Cast: Giuseppe Fuda
Runtime: 84 minutes
My Rating: ★★★★★
In Short: Beautiful vignettes set in and around a quiet Italian village, carrying a poignant message
Le Quattro Volte (The Four Times) is unlike any movie you will ever see. It is one of the most major and important cinematic advances of recent years. It includes the beautiful poignancy of Malick’s The Tree of Life but none of the needless exposition; it features the understanding of human and animal life and turmoil that Bresson’s Au Hasard Balthazar realized, but contains none of the cynicism. It is one of the most beautiful movies I have ever seen, and I almost never saw it.
Some say The Artist is the only recent silent film, but they obviously haven’t seen Le Quattro Volte. In Le Quattro Volte, there is not a single line of dialogue. Not one. But unlike many silent films, there is no music in this movie. There are images, and there is sound. There is also a plot, but it is not as concrete a plot as you might think, and director Frammartino allows the movie’s stunning images and themes to carry the story to a realm beyond plot, where the human mind simply revels in the film’s provocative, thoughtful and at times even funny scenarios.
The film begins with an elderly man who is sick and dying. He treats his ailment by drinking water that is laced with dust collected from the floor of a local church, hoping it will cure his illness. This man is a goatherd, who cares for and breeds goats. He keeps them in a pen, locked up by the side of the road. There is one simply ingenious and amazing sequence shown in one startlingly long unbroken take, where his faithful dog frees the goats by removing a brick from under the wheel of a truck, sending it tumbling down into the goatpen and demolishing the gate. The goats run rampant over the town. This comedic moment is one of few though, since the next scene shows the old man dying. Then, after he has passed on, a curious thing happens: he is buried, and the camera abruptly cuts from darkness to a shocking shot of a baby goat being born. This establishes one of Frammartino’s key themes in the movie, that of reincarnation. We follow the old man’s spirit in three forms: first human, then animal, and finally that of plant life, in the form of a giant tree, which is cut down and used to make charcoal. One image at the end of the film shows smoke emerging from the giant mound of charcoal, and in our head we realize that this smoke is the spirit of the old man, escaping into the air and experiencing freedom from physical form.
This film is fuelled and powered by the beauty not only of the images, but the emotions they trigger and the thoughts they provoke. There is one scene that animal lovers will find heartbreaking: the kid goat whom we saw born at the beginning of the second act of the film is travelling with other animals, but gets caught and stuck in a ditch. He is stranded there for what we assume must be hours, uttering an incredibly saddening, begging bleat over and over. Then, when he finally escapes, he is left alone, wandering around the forest and hoping in vain that someone will find him. He lies down next to a tree and dies of starvation. But this scene is not as saddening as you might think; after the screen goes black (just like after the old man died) we cut to a shot of the lone tree, covered in snow. Frammartino’s implication is that the goat was reincarnated as the tree, so the circle of life continues.
Whether you believe in such nonsense as reincarnation is unimportant. You don’t have to believe it to find Frammartino’s implication of it thoughtful and beautiful. If you have an open mind about all theories of life and existence, then seeing them portrayed on screen in such a beautiful way is simply enlightening. Some have been bored by this film, but to them I say the same thing to people who are bored by movies like Gerry or Sans Soleil: it’s not the images that make the film. It’s what the images mean. If images have no meaning, they might as well be worthless, and the worst films are the movies where the images are unjustifiably meaningless. Not a single second in Le Quattro Volte is wasted, and each image is infused with such power and beauty that in everyone’s head, we all have our own meanings, and there is no one concrete answer. In mainstream films, directors assume audiences are so stupid that we need line after line of clichéd dialogue to “understand” a film’s plot or meaning. This in itself is idiotic. Le Quattro Volte does not waste its time catering to such complexities, and those who enjoy simple images that are poetic and beautiful will find themselves swept away in the film’s strong and powerful tide.