“Le Quattro Volte” does not explain anything to us. It does not even try to tell us the idea that inspired this beautiful, reticent film. But I am not complaining about it, because the movie does not have to explain about itself at all. There are some inconsequential dialogues in the film, but you won’t need the subtitle because it shows everything you need to understand or think about it. It watches the world and the circle of life with intriguing serenity, and that induces us to muse or focus on what is shown on the screen for around 85 minutes.
The movie observes the four stages of life on the earth as thought by Pythagoras. First, we meet an old shepherd in a rural town in Calabria, Italy. He goes to the wide field on the hills with the goats herded by him everyday. Surrounded by beautiful green mountains seen from the distance, everything is quiet except the wind, the bells attached to his goats, and their constant bleats.
We see him milking one of the goats. We see him going to some house in the town to give something. He goes to the church, where the dust on the church floor is collected, packaged, and given to him by some middle-aged woman. At home where he lives alone, he mixes it with water in bottle and drinks it every night before he sleeps. Even though he does not speak, we can easily surmise that he thinks it is sort of medicine to him. To me, it is more like drinking a batch culture of bacteria, but never mind.
With his minimalistic approach using repeated scenes accompanied with static, unchanged compositions, the director Michelangelo Frammartino shapes the pattern in this slow daily life without much change. From time to time, the camera calmly watches its subjects without movement. Nothing seems to happen at first in its wide shots, but there are small things happening around the screen and our eyes are drawn to them. We get some small information, including where the old man lives, along with the amusement coming from subtle humor. There is a shepherd dog prancing around an old shepherd and his goats, and it has a funny role in the impressive long take sequence where the camera slowly pans back and forth between one point to the other point while observing the progress of the religious ceremony in the town(I learned later it is Easter Procession).
We later see the old man dying on his bed, surrounded by the goats accidently released from the stable. His funeral is soon followed, and a baby goat is born. Like any newborn kids, it has a sticky beginning right after coming out of its mother’s womb. Still covered with mucus, it struggles to stand on the ground with its four feeble legs. It is not so easy at its first trial, but it eventually succeeds, while it looks less sticky than before.
The focus moves from the man to the goats at this stage. After the old man is gone, they, including that kid, are now herded by the other men barely shown to us. The goats look pretty much same at first, but, when the camera looks them closer, you can see the notable differences between them besides the fur colors and the small tags attached to their ears. I especially noticed the various shapes of their horns. Some goats have those horns in smooth shape familiar to us; the other ones have the ones of more curious shapes. Sometimes it looks like they have overgrown the branches on their head.
The life of these animals is not changed much after their previous owner died. As usual, they get out of the stable in the morning and come back later. The kid stays with other kids in the stable, and these young, cute animals get along with each other pretty well. After some time later, they also go out along with the adult goats and see the world outside for the first time. However, the kid gets separated from the herd by accident. Left alone, it wanders around the forest. It finally finds its shelter under some big tree while the darkness falls.
The change of seasons follows. The snow falls in the winter, and then spring returns, and that tree remains in the same place. While watching it, I thought about how much the plants have evolved throughout its long history. Unlike animals, they could not move to more favorable environment, so they had to evolve more diligently for the adaptation to the changing environment they are stuck in from the start. They have quite been successful, while supporting many animal species including us.
After the spring returns, the tree is soon utilized by the town people. They cut it with the chainsaw, skin it, and then bring it to the town. Some town event is held, and the town is livelier than before with many people. For some purpose not explained, they use it as a pole with the branches on the top of it. When the camera watches it from the distance, it looks like a palm tree; a man actually climbs up to the top like the gardeners in LA do.
After the event is over, the pole is chopped into the pieces, which are sent to the place where they make charcoals. Their work progress is interesting to watch. Those chopped pieces are placed with other pieces of the woods. The workers assemble them into a big kiln step by step. Once the work is completed, it is covered with hays and black soils. They put the fire inside the kiln, and the smokes arise from the holes on its surface, which we saw in the opening scene. The circle is completed – it will begin again.
“Le Quattro Volte” means ‘four times’. After watching it, I learned that it reflects Pythagoras’ belief in “four-fold transmigration” of souls. Even if you do not know well about it(don’t worry, neither do I), the movie is an absorbing experience on the cycle of life in nature. I do not believe in reincarnation, but aren’t we all made of the atoms, which will, after we are disintegrated, go to the other life forms or the minerals in the world?