Le Quattro Volte | Putting Humanity’s Role into Perspective


I went to see Michelangelo Frammartino’s new film last night, Le Quattro Volte. This is a very difficult film to do justice to on the page, but I will simply say: try to go and see it. Do all you can to get to see it at the cinema. This is cinema. Not plasma TV or night in with a video.

The film is set in the mountains round Serra San Bruno in the south of Italy and is basically documentary drama – in other words, this is everyday rural life, but with some elements of staging. It is almost entirely silent (there are far more words in the slightly annoying trailer above than in the whole film), but more than that, it is a quite extraordinary meditation on humanity’s place within the world. Frammartino himself says this:

I want to put mans role into perspective and turn my gaze away from him. I want to know: can cinema free itself from the dogma that says human beings should play the central role?

I don’t want to give too much away – though it would be hard to say anything that was a ‘spoiler’ here – but his vision is enacted here as the film as it begins appears to be about an old goat-herder, but then becomes about the goats themselves, then the trees in which the goats shelter, and then the charcoal that is made from these trees. In other words, the ‘four turns’ of the film are human, animal, vegetable and mineral – a cycle of life and death from ashes to ashes.

None of this is to do justice to the incredible cinematography, which has some stunning shots and elevates the camera to an instrument of deep perception. There is not only fabulous humour, but a very subtle and beautiful theology woven into the film too, and being almost silent and only 88 mins long the piece could literally stand as an act of meditative worship on its own. It carries a gentle critique of the power of the church, the old goat-herd drinking an infusion made from dust sweepings from the church floor, which he seems to believe will cure his respiratory problems… Yet it is outside of the stone walls in the community rituals of Easter and Christmas, the dressing up, the parading, the erecting of a huge tree in the town square, that the most healing moments seem to be found.

But don’t take my word for it. Just do all you can and go and see it. Mark Kermode’s review below: