(Le Quattro Volte) 

Dir. Michelangelo Frammartino. Italy. 2010

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Although most of what we know about the Greek philosopher Pythagoras derives from sources written four hundred years after his death, he is regarded to have been a believer in the doctrine known as the transmigration of souls, the idea that the soul of man can reincarnate in different forms: as man, animal, vegetable, or mineral depending on one's karma. Referred to in Indian tradition as samsara, the idea of transmigration has recently been depicted in Apichatpong Weerasethakul's, Uncle Boonmee Who Can Recall His Past Lives, where Boonmee's son is reborn as a monkey ghost and one of Boonmee's past lives is as an erotic talking catfish.  

The doctrine that all things are part of the divine whether a tree, a lump of charcoal, an animal, or a human being is also dramatized in Le Quattro Volte, written and directed by Michelangelo Frammartino. Set in a small village in Calabria in Southern Italy where Pythagoras is said to have lived, Le Quattro Volte is a quietly meditative film that is divided into four sections separated by a blank screen. There is no narration or dialogue other than the dialogue of nature: the bleating of goats, the sheep bells, and the rush of wind blowing through the trees. Frammartino offers no clues or connections to the viewer as to what each segment represents. It is a film, he warns, in which “the viewer must do all the work.”  

As the film opens, an old man (Giuseppe Fuda), emerges out of the smoke rising from a charcoal kiln, tending to his goats in a pastoral setting that may not have changed for hundreds of years. The goat herder has a persistent cough that he tends to by exchanging goat's milk for dust on the floor of the local church and mixing it with a glass of water. When he realizes that his medicine has disappeared, he goes back to the church late at night but it is closed. Without his elixir, he dies the following morning in his bed surrounded by a herd of goats that made their way into his bedroom, one standing on the top of his table.  

Taking a page from Sergei Dvortsevoy's Tulpan, the scene shifts suddenly from the darkness of the old man's tomb to the birth of a live goat with its fluid being licked by its mother, a sequence that suggests the continuation of life. We follow the young kid as it grows steadily from taking its first steps to playing with other young goats. His development is interrupted, however, by a ten-minute sequence showing revelers taking part in a passion play celebrating Good Friday. Hilariously the old man's dog, after being chased off by villagers after annoying them with constant barking, retaliates by unblocking the wheels of their truck parked on a hillside causing it to roll down the hill, freeing a herd of goats enclosed in a pen. 

As the goats are led through the forest, the baby goat becomes separated from the herd and wanders in the heavy brush until he lies down at the foot of a tall pine tree. With that, the film moves into another stage that shows the process of cutting down and stripping the tall tree. To complete the cycle, the tree is then made into a hut where wood and straw are converted into charcoal to provide heat for the winter, suggesting the oft-repeated phrase from The Book of Common Prayer, “ashes to ashes, dust to dust.”

Lacking in what is generally considered to be drama or character identification, Le Quattro Volte can be slow going and abstract, a film that rarely engages the emotions, yet it has a serene and contemplative beauty that allows its message of the impermanence of life to become manifest. As Eric Benet put it in his well-known song “Dust in The Wind”, “Don't hang on. Nothing lasts forever, but the earth and sky, it's there always and all your money won't another minute buy. Dust. . . all we are is dust in the wind. Dust in the wind…Time for the healing to begin.” 


Howard Schumann

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