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by Eric Kohn
May 22, 2010 12:28 PM
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CANNES REVIEW | Spirituality and Goats: "Le Quattro Volte"

An image from Michaelangelo Frammartino's "Le Quattro Vole".

A story of anarchic goats, lively spiritual celebrations and reincarnation, Michaelangelo Frammartino's "Le Quattro Volte" (which won the Europa Cinemas Label in Cannes's Directors' Fortnight) has a heavy philosophical load. Nevertheless, this painstakingly constructed, quasi-documentary about a shepherd and the flock where he's eventually reborn maintains an unexpectedly playful sensibility on its own terms.

The story of sorts takes place in the quaint area of Italy's Calabria province, where the elderly shepherd (Giuseppe Fuda) goes about his quiet existence while his impending death looms. Frammartino slowly brings us into the world, following the shepherd on his routine until his death somewhere around the end of the first act.

Then, a revelation: The director positions a camera overlooking the goats' holding pen and watches a series of increasingly strange events gradually develop. The result is one of the most fascinating long takes ever put on screen. Patient viewers will be rewarded with a slapstick punchline as the goats run wild across the town, eventually invading their shepherd's home as he breathes his final breath. When he finally does die, the lunacy comes down to Earth as fast as it arrived.

But things quickly turn cosmic. The shepherd's body is placed in a tomb, the movie cuts to black, the sound of a heartbeat slips onto the soundtrack and suddenly a shot of sheep birth fills the frame. The not-so-subtle reincarnation, however, leads to a stream of subtle moments. Baby sheep wander around the farm and play together as if they were a pack of preschoolers. They then embark on a lengthy voyage through the wilderness that culminates with one of them getting separated from the pack. You'll laugh, you'll cry, or at least just go "aww" a few times, because "Le Quattro Volte" is cinema at its most primal, yet simultaneously contains a wealth of ideas.

Frammartino keeps the material engaging simply by aiming the camera at his subjects and letting the material organically emerge -- rather than enforcing the supernatural element with overstatement. The final equation has a Zen quality to it, as Frammartino cycles through a quartet of mini-stories that find new characters in increasingly unlikely places: First man, then sheep, followed by the dead of winter and eventually a Good Friday celebration. In the closing sequence, a rising fume becomes the real star of the show. Given its grandiose dimensions, it speaks to Frammartino's humility that he allows the entire concept to go up in smoke and let the visuals complete the cycle of life.

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10 Comments

  • Jules Altenberg | August 28, 2011 7:23 AMReply

    This is the worst film I have ever seen. The cinephotography was amateurish, there was no
    continuity and the camera stayed endlessly on the the same subject (an ant on a tree, for example). The film had a few amusing spots but these were not worth the boredom of sitting through.the rest. I guess beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I saw nothing of value.

  • Stu | June 3, 2011 11:54 AMReply

    How do such shallow people end up in a film like this? Do they just walk into a cinema and say 'What's on just now?' Then they both to go online and complain about the experience. This is a film with many beautiful moments, some comedy, a degree of randomness - and a challenge to look thoughtfully beyond the obvious. It isn't a masterpiece, but vastly more interesting than most films you will see in any given year.

  • George Viglirolo | April 23, 2011 8:08 AMReply

    More like a poem than a film. An implied narrative, much like Nature itself. Indeed, there's no real dialogue. One occasionally sees brief encounters between people, conveyed to the audience at a distance in snatches of Calabrian dialect (?). The remote landscape is simultaneously beautiful and severe. There's a lot going on beyond words, inside and outside of time. Like brief encounters when your eyes and and the eyes of a complete stranger meet

  • Jean-David | April 8, 2011 2:14 AMReply

    Not sheep, goats. Goats! I had a pet goat. There is a big difference. Apparent truthful realism in this charming film: goats are stupid and get lost all the time if they don't follow the herd. Unless they are devoured by a preditor, they are likely to be found if looked for though. They bleat with ceaseless desperation.

  • Stef | April 2, 2011 2:31 AMReply

    Just saw this at the Film Forum. The most annoying part for me wasn't the actual movie but all of the film aficionados in the crowd chuckling at the slightest things, like a goat walking up the stairs. Hardy har har. Maybe it's because I was late, & by missing the first section of the movie didn't sense the overall 'comic' tone of the film. I walked in during the crucifix march. The dog pulling the block from under the truck wheel was pretty funny, but other than that the rest that followed bleak & eerie...Being born alone in a dark hut, where the baby goats compete to climb to the highest bucket, not really knowing why, not knowing anything beyond their petty social circle, then to finally see the world, get lost & die alone. This wasn't dry comedy to me! Sure goats are cute & silly but I was not chuckling along with my deep intellectual peers. The crowd then proceeded to giggle at a scene of a couple italians inaudibly chatting in the distance about a log. Oh those silly italians! But oddly no one laughed at a man's plumber crack that was deliberately thrown in the shot 3 times! For feeling this way, does that make me a depressed low-brow? This movie is like an abstract painting, You bring your own feelings to the table. I say watch it alone... But not with a big bowl o' coffee.

  • Fred | March 24, 2011 6:51 AMReply

    I'm guessing that "Mikel and friends" didn't actually see the movie, but are simply trolling for fun.

  • Nat | March 12, 2011 10:00 AMReply

    I agree with Mikael, this is boring and overrated. What was the reviewer thinking/taking?

  • Suzanne | February 27, 2011 10:00 AMReply

    What an interesting group of open-minded, artistic, philosophical people you and your friends must be, Mikel. Why would you waste your time and ours by posting such a pointless, nasty, shallow comment. So the film wasn't your thing, fine. But why go on the attack? And could it be possible that other people will draw some deepr meaning from the film despite your inability to do so? Ther's more to this world than all you have experienced, Mikel.

  • Mikel and friends | September 23, 2010 1:29 AMReply

    We saw yesterday the "movie". I don´t know if you have ever gone out of your house, but everyday everywhere happen more cosmic and much deep feeling situations. I think you should buy a new life. This film has nothing to do with cosmic, and after reading your review I undertood that the film was nonsense. If you want to look like a freak just go nacked along the street, but please don´t say such an stupid thing. The film is just and hour an a half boring and horrible abstract painting which has only sense for someone that wants to give it sense to look cooler and well up in film circles

  • Mike Bova | September 10, 2010 4:30 AMReply

    When will Le Quattro Volte come out for the American public?

    Thank you,
    Mike Bova