Reviewer: Philip Tatler IV
Rating (out of five): *** 1/2
Michelangelo Frammartino's La Quattro Volte ("The Four Times") is about a goatherd who dies and is reborn as a goat. The goat briefly frolics before it loses its way in a forest and dies of starvation and exposure to the elements. However, the goat’s essence lives on; its being is assimilated into a tree, which is then cut down and converted into charcoal. The end, spoiler alert, etc.
Volte dares you to process it simply, even though it’s composed of eighty minutes of rather simple, wordless, shots. The plot and actors matter very little and are eclipsed by Frammartino’s impressive formal flexing. Volte is more of an installation piece or a moving monograph. On paper (and, incidentally, the accompanying press release is the only place you’ll find any sort of specific philosophical exegesis), the director is exploring a Pythagorean mystery cult cosmology that posits that the human soul must move from animal to plant to mineral before reaching a sort of Platonic/Hindu transcendence from the corporeal.
Whether or not Frammartino buys this thesis isn’t apparent or even important. He uses it as a jumping off point to revel in the elements. Earth crawls with black ants, wind hisses, wood smolders, and water is broken as a new goat leaves the birth canal. As tedious as a wordless mediation on organic cosmology may sound, Volte is beautifully wrought and gains a sort of ecstatic momentum as the film progresses. The strictly controlled compositions and sound design force the engaged viewer into the frame.
I've seen the film categorized as "documentary" and it is... sort of, inasmuch as a monograph of Brueghel’s transcendental renderings of pastoral life can be filed under "non-fiction." It’s also misleading to suggest anything here is "narrative," but the film follows a surprisingly linear path from one philosophical plot point to next. There’s even an exceptional "set piece" of sorts, about thirty minutes in, when the camera moves for the first time to cover a series of mishaps involving a sheep dog, a runaway truck, a group of Passion players, and the ubiquitous herd of goats.
Obviously, Volte is not for everyone. Those willing to endure the glacial pace, lack of incident, and altogether quiet of the piece will be rewarded. At times it feels like a motion picture adaptation of an Andy Goldsworthy piece; an exploration of nature that pushes beyond the bounds of its beautiful imagery and reaches for something a little more esoteric.
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