Friday 31 March 2017

Movies: Le Quattro Volte ****

Paul Whitington

Michelangelo Frammartino's Le Quattro Volte is so eccentric, off-kilter and wilfully unique a piece of cinema that it almost feels like a new kind of film-making.

Neither documentary nor straight drama, Frammartino's film mounts a leisurely examination of life in a sleepy rural village in the southern Italian province of Calabria.

On superficial inspection, Frammartino's agenda seems alarmingly random: a shepherd starts to lose his battle with illness, his goats give birth, a tree is felled to form the centre of a pagan village ritual, and a dog plays havoc with a re-enactment of the Passion.

But as you watch it gradually begins to dawn on you that there's an impressive formal structure behind all this, and that Mr Frammartino is telling us something about the deeper rhythms of nature and the unending cycle of life and death.

The shepherd in question (played with touching candour by Giuseppe Fuda) lives alone in a humble house and leads his goats to graze in the verdant hills around the village each morning.

But his health is failing, in fact he's dying, and his belief that a packet of dust collected in the church will keep him alive if taken as medicine is poignant.

The church dust doesn't work, and one of the many cinematic rules Frammartino's breaks is to present us with a central character and then remove him less than halfway through the film.

But it's nature, the village and the ever-changing skies above it that are the real subject of Le Quattro Volte. The director uses huge imagination in terms of perspective and composition, but opts for no gimicks: there's little or no dialogue and no bullying mood music. All you hear is birds, goats, the distant mutterings of peasants and the eternal swaying of high trees.

If all this sounds solemn, it's anything but: Le Quattro Volte is often very funny, and in a beautifully constructed scene the shepherd's profoundly subversive dog unleashes chaos at the village Passion play.

Nature, via the dog, seems to be laughing at humanity's vain attempts to impose order on the deep and impenetrable mysteries of life and death.

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