Reincarnated goats and the sacrament of change


Le Quattro Volte (G). Director: Michelangelo Frammartino. 84 minutes

Le Quattro VolteThe Italian word 'volte' evokes not just the noun 'time', but also the verbs to 'merge', 'become' or 'transform'. All connotations are relevant here. Le Quattro Volte floats on the passage of the seasons, and the minute progressions of time in a timeless Calabrian village. Philosophically, it considers change and growth as almost sacramental aspects of earthly existence.

The overarching narrative follows a metaphysical path, as a soul progresses through four states of being: from human, to animal, to plant, to mineral. But this virtually dialogue-free film is not fixated on esotery. Quite the opposite: the camera's still, gently inquisitive gaze finds magic in the mundane, and humour and meaning in the everyday events of village life.

An elderly goatherd walks the village's steep, rutted streets, delivering vessels of milk to his neighbours. He's beset by a vicious cough, which he soothes with a concoction of water and ash from church altar candles. His eventual death coincides with the birth of a goat, which takes up the mantle as the film's central character, and is surprisingly, wonderfully anthropomorphised.

The theme is of reincarnation, but not devaluation. The goat's life is not less than the man's.

This idea is carried further: eventually, the goat 'becomes' a tree, which, placed at the centre of ritualised festivities in the village, is celebrated in a way neither man nor goat was in life. And the reverential pyrolytic process to which its timber is later subjected imbues the resultant charcoal with an almost religious significance.

The film is full of ideas, which director Frammartino allows the viewer to discover through contemplation. Notably, it subtly chastises religious institutions that fail to meet the basic needs of human beings. This is implicit in the hollow booming that is the only result of the sickly goatherd's urgent knocking on the church door on the night before his death.

This image makes a sad irony of the man's simple faith in the healing power of the ash he earlier swept off the church floor.

Frammartino finds a more epic metaphor for the vacuity of religious ritual if divorced from human reality. A Passion play taking place outside the village is juxtaposed with a slapstick comedy-of-errors that occurs simultaneously within it. The two scenarios are linked by the shuttling movements of a barking dog, and by the camera, which pans between them like an intrigued onlooker. The effect is farcical and poignant.

La Quattro Volte unfolds slowly, without commentary or interference. Its measured, laconic nature could be narcotic if entered into with anything other than a receptive and focused attitude. But patient viewers will be rewarded by its beauty, and the brief running time means that the end credits roll before meditation gives way to tedium. 

Tim KroenertTim Kroenert is Assistant Editor of Eureka Street. He is a contributor to Kidzone, Inside Film and The Big Issue, and his articles and reviews have appeared in Melbourne's The Age and Brisbane's Courier-Mail

Topic tags: Tim Kroenert, Le Quattro Volte, Michelangelo Frammartino, Calabrian village, goat



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Existing comments

There is a lot to be said for cinema as a focus for spiritual awareness, a celebration of life's transience, an emotional catharsis, a communal experience of grace, and a communion of hearts and minds. The multiplex is the closest many people come to a religious (structured) or spiritual (unfettered) experience these days. (That said, roll on the footy season/s.) In our time-poor culture, where we do not have or do not take) the opportunity to contemplate loss, transformation and renewal, how rarely do we get to experience this kind of film, or this kind of film-going experience? My thanks to the review writer for an elegant, insightful and evocative essay.
Barry G | 03 March 2011

goats are the balance of a man nore tree.
ruby | 24 May 2019


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