The credits roll in silence. A succession of images take over the screen in hushed silence. A dog barks. Birds chirp. Tangled, overgrown trees whisper. Then the face of life appears. A man. He is a shepherd, a keeper of goats. His weatherworn face creased and criss-crossed by the many years he’s journeyed down the road of life. He coughs persistently, a hacking cough. He tries to keep up with the dog that is herding a flock of goats down a weather-beaten path. The cough barks incessantly, forcing the shepherd to the ground. Nature observes his misery. She offers solace beneath her full-spreading tree as twilight descends. Silence prevails.
This is the novel opening of writer/director Michelangelo Frammartino’s supersensitive film “Quattro Volte” (“The Four Times”) (Lorber Films, 2010, 88 mins.), which had its theatrical premiere on Wednesday, March 30, and will run through April 12 at Film Forum, 209 W. Houston St. in New York City.
Structured in four distinctive parts, the film, set in an incurious, tiny village in the southern area of Calabria, a mountainous region of Italy, focuses on the life cycles of one soul incarnate as four distinct entities: man, animal and nature as well as industrialization (constructed by man). We initially see these elements alive before they are eventually intruded upon by death. In Frammartino’s mind’s eye these varying entities, though in different forms, occupy a distinct place in an ever-evolving yet harmonious world. There is no dialogue in this film, but, to keep Frammartino’s storytelling alive, there is an exchange of the soul.
As such, “Le Quattro Volte,” Frammartino’s second feature, is framed by this question: Can cinema free itself of the dogma which dictates that human beings should occupy the leading role? “Le Quattro Volte” seeks to answer this question.
The film opens with the narrative of the shepherd, superbly portrayed by Bruno Timpano, whose face is a singular narrative of his life in the small medieval village. His wealth are his goats, his best friend is his dog and his sexual release comes with the aid of a girlie magazine in the open pasture. His stark bedroom contains a large armoire, a crucifix on a wall above three chairs and a well-made cot on which he sits before taking his nightly medicine of water and dust collected from the village’s church floor.
Frammartino then takes us into the second story, that of a newborn kid goat who finally goes to pasture with the rest of the herd. As night falls he finds himself alone in the fast-darkening, encircling forest. Like the abundant grove which protected the shepherd, a looming majestic overhead growth protects him, moving viewers into the third story–that of the tree.
We see a progression of seasons come and go until the tree meets its fate at the hands of man, who transforms it into wood coal executed by the local coal makers. Frammartino lingers on the tradition of the coal makers, who in effect change, or industrialize, the live, vegetable matter of the wood into charcoal, a motionless mineral substance which is easily broken and falls apart. In the same way man and animal die and, like the tree, after a period are given back to the earth.
Frammartino, whose first feature film “Il Dono” (“The Gift”) received multiple awards, was born in Milan. He studied at the architecture department of Milan Polytechnic School, where he developed a passion for the relationship between physical space and images in the photography, video and film media. He teaches film language and scriptwriting at the University of Bergamo, the ENFAP Lombardia and the CINELIFE education center.
“Calabria is a land that exerts an archaic fascination.” Frammartino says of the land he loves. “It is a repository of ancient traditions. Its coalmen, for instance, have been applying the same methods to the same materials since the dawn of time. The popular knowledge that has survived in this region to this day betrays the influence of the Pythagorean school which was established here.” In essence, what Frammartino has learned from Calabria is: “This land has taught me to put man’s role into perspective and turn my gaze from him.”
Which brings us back to Frammartino’s question. Can cinema free itself of the dogma which dictates that human beings should occupy the leading role? You be the judge. Check out “Le Quattro Volte.”
For further information, please visit www.filmforum.org. For ticket information, call (212) 727-8110.