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  • U
  • Drama, World Cinema
  • 2010

Le Quattro Volte



This portrait of disappearing traditions in rural Southern Italy subjects ancient mystic rituals to a disarmingly naturalistic approach


Le Quattro Volte takes its title from a quote attributed to Pythagoras suggesting that we each live our life 'four times'. Accordingly the film is in four parts, each discreetly demarcated by a brief interval of blank screen - but that is not to say that these different episodes, concerned variously with an elderly goatherd, a newborn goat, a giant tree and a sack of newly made coal, somehow lack continuity or thematic coherence.
On the contrary, the shift in focus from human to animal to vegetable to mineral presents a portrait of Calabrian life where everything has its place in a repeating natural cycle - even if the film is also an elegy for the circle's end, as writer/director Michelangelo Frammartino documents an age-old way of life that is, both literally and metaphorically, going up in smoke.

As we follow a goatherd (Giuseppe Fuda) about on his daily walk into the hills, it is clear that this hacking, hobbling figure is on his last legs. Every night, before going to sleep, he takes a tonic of water mixed with dust from the local church as a treatment for his respiratory problems. This cure is part of a local tradition which, like the man himself, is slowly dying. After misplacing his latest ration of dust, the old man does indeed die, surrounded - both poignantly and absurdly - by his flock. Just as his death coincides with a passion parade through his village, his entombment is associated with resurrection through its juxtaposition to the birth of a bleating kid.

The kid becomes separated from its herd and, lost in the woods, seeks shelter under a fir tree where - by implication - it too dies. Spring eventually comes, and the fir is felled for use in another regional pagan festival, the 'Pita', celebrated in the Calabrian town of Alessandria del Carretto. Finally the tree's timber is sold to charcoal makers who use traditional methods to reduce it to blackened fuel for distribution amongst the nearby villages - although the men that Frammartino has captured on film carrying out this labour are themselves the last generation that will produce charcoal in this way. Here the ancient and the modern are brought into collision, much as the old stone fence enclosing the goatherd's pen is destroyed when a pickup truck goes crashing through it.

Told mostly in long shot, not only without dialogue, but even without the human centre from which more conventional narratives unfold, Le Quattro Volte is a slow, contemplative film about time and transformation, rewarding the viewer's patience with its mysterious, even transcendent vision - and some unexpected humour.

Cast & Connections

  • Producer: Philippe Bober, Elda Guidinetti

In a nutshell

Frammartino's idyll of mystic metempsychosis batters down the boundary fence between tradition and modernity, pagan and Christian, documentary and fiction.

by Anton Bitel

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