Le Quattro Volte (Italy)

2011 Italy

SUNDAY 16th SEPTEMBER 10.00 am


An old shepherd lives his last days in a quiet medieval village perched high on the hills of Calabria, at the southernmost tip of Italy. He herds goats under skies that most villagers have deserted long ago. He is sick, and believes he will find his medicine in the dust he collects on the church floor, which he drinks in his water every day.


Michelangelo Frammartino’s Le Quattro Volte, or The Four Times, is a gem of art cinema and a miracle of animal-wrangling. This beautiful movie is almost entirely wordless; it is slow, precise, superbly filmed, with an almost respiratory sense of the rise and fall of the seasons and the rhythm of the countryside. The scene is Calabria in southern Italy, in a medieval village, and for the first hour of so, the action could be taking place at any time over the past couple of centuries. Only the final section definitely locates it in the present day.

An old shepherd (Giuseppe Fuda) tends to his goats, who roam mesmerically all over the landscape and all over the screen. These goats are natural performers. Their shepherd is dying, and when he slumps down or collapses in a field or woodland, one of the goats returns, as if to check on him. The goats are tending to him.

Frammartino’s camera will trace the rugged, sun-baked horizon in the same impassive way that it traces the lines of the shepherd’s careworn face, up close. We watch, as an ant crawls up his cheek, like a goat on a hill in long-shot. Heartbreakingly, the shepherd is racked by a terrible cough and every night, he drinks some sort of powdered infusion in his cell-like single room, which Frammartino endows with the dignity and poignancy of something by Van Gogh.

Later, we will find that this powder is not medicine, but dust from the church floor, which he apparently credits with magical qualities: superstition has mixed with traditional piety in this secluded place, but the dust is clearly making the shepherd’s cough worse. Perhaps it has actually caused it in the first place. Frammartino is not proposing any sentimental, picturesque vision of a rustic at peace and at rest. His shepherd is sad and tired and lonely.

Upstaging them all is probably the shepherd’s dog. In one extraordinary sequence – did Frammartino rehearse it, script it, or just find himself serendipitously in the right place to film it? – the dog removes the chocks that keep a stationary van from rolling away down the hill. As the camera circles, tracking the dog, the van trundles back, smashes the fence marking the boundary of the goats’ enclosure, and the animals get out – surreally, all over the place. It is the premonition of a human fate.

Animals are a bit of a rarity in film – they featured in the neo-realists’ work and Kusturica has a fondness for them, but nowadays they are often digitalised fakes. These animals are the real thing: they take the leading roles, while the humans are largely in the background. This deeply affecting film has a stillness and a reverence to it, every shot framed and composed with outstanding judgment. If you are tired of wittering, headache-inducing nonsense at the cinema, then this is for you. Try it.

Source: www.guardian.co.uk 26 May 2011, accessed 17/4/12