Michelangelo Frammartino’s contemplative Le Quattro Volte (2010) from Italy is a meditation on the mysterious cycles of life inspired by the “four-fold transmigration” of souls that Pythagoras proposed: the soul passes from human to animal to vegetable to, eventually, the eternal. But don’t let that scare you off. This wordless journey is closer to poetry than documentary.
The film opens and ends on smoke, an almost ethereal state that feels alive as it pools and eddies in the air and is carried along by the winds, yet is also a phantom of sorts, the ghost of past states of being scattered through the world. In between we observe the day to day routine of an old, sickly shepherd (his hacking cough peppers the soundtrack) struggling to march his little herd to the hills and back and dutifully ingesting his unconventional medicine every night until one morning he doesn’t get up. The screen fades to black (the nothingness of death?) and then, in a sudden cut, is back in the world with the birth of goat and a new cycle of birth and death and birth again. There no explanation but the grace with which Frammartino carries us through these lives and states suggests a connection and a continuity.
It’s also a kind of stylized documentary of existence in this village, from the day-to-day rituals of work and rest to the holiday celebrations of its inhabitants through the seasons, such as the Easter procession of the Stations of the Cross and the raising of a totem in a village festival. It’s both an embrace of the comfort of ritual and certainly and acknowledgement of the magic of the unexpected and the accidental bringing change to routine.
This kind of filmmaking is rare indeed and the experience, whether you see it as spiritual, natural, magical, metaphysical or simply metaphorical, is nonetheless moving. And don’t worry about subtitles. There is no dialogue in the film and in place of a musical score is the soundtrack of natural sounds and day to day activity of humans and animals both, the shuffling of feet on stone streets and dirt paths, the bleating of goats, the barking of a persistent sheepdog, the sound of a tree falling in the forest and the musical tones of logs and sticks tossed into stacks in a charcoal kiln, orchestrated into a kind of natural music.
The title translates to The Four Times in English.
It won two awards at the Cannes Film Festival.
Not rated, no spoken language.