Le Quattro Volte

Snowed under with work all weekend I decided to take a break and head down to the Richmond Curzon to watch Michaelangelo Frammartino's film Le Quattro Volte. It received four stars from The Guardian's Peter Bradshaw, and a big thumbs up from a friend who went to see it during the week. It seems this film is best appreciated in art house cinemas, it being an art house film and all. Said friend went to see it at the Phoenix in East Finchley. I went to see it at the lovely cocoon that is Richmond Curzon, on Water Lane, just yards from the riverside. It's also on at Bloomsbury's Renoir and a few other places. An Odeon flick it is not. One review declares it to be about a shepherd (it's actually a goatherd, although his loyal companion is a sheepdog), played by Giuseppa Fuda. It is true that the film opens on him and follows him for the first half, but it's not 'about' him - or the wonderful goats who did nothing but charm me, I'll never see a goat in the same way again - or the small village in Calabria in which it is so majestically set. It is about all of this and yet more; life, death, nature - and the poetry and mystery therein. It's about superstition, about hope, about how simple, yet hard work can engross and settle one. The goats in this film are the 'stars' - particularly the kid we see born into the world in a slush of its mother's fluids, the sound of which can only be life itself; then, the way the kid struggles to get up on its legs, something that only it can achieve by itself. There is no dialogue. None. So the cinematography has to be beyond reproach. And it is. Each scene is a powerful meditation on life, death and nature - and of film itself - what it can achieve; the majestic simplicity that serves to ground us in lives that force us to keep on-the-go and always engaged in some type of escapist activity. I needed to watch it - I needed to be grounded in the essence of it. When the film ended, in those first few seconds when the credits roll, two horsey posh women behind me declared 'How self-indulgent! Boring. So it was about death. So what!' and I just thought 'oh fuck off and watch a chick-flick next time then'. I felt it was a shame that a film that did what others do not could be labelled 'self-indulgent'. When did it become 'self-indulgent' to want to 'stop and stare'? It's a meditation, this film.

There is a sequence of scenes towards the end, that actually close the circle, as it starts off with the making of charcoal, whereby a group of men simply work at crafting this small hill of logs. The logs had actually come from the same tree that served as the focus for the village celebration tied up with superstition. We watch this hill being built. I was mesmerised. The way the logs were stacked 2x2 horizontally, and then surrounded vertically, followed by a covering of black soil, which was patted down, as though a cake was being made. Neatly lined holes were created in this hill of charcoal, through which the dense smoke that was being created by the fire within, streamed out, and up into the Calabrian air above, hinting at may have aggravated the goatherd's chest, whom we follow at the beginning. It is simply beautiful. I've always felt that no-one does film quite like the Italians. My two favourite being Il Postino and Cinema Paradiso. They just know how to simply and effectively evoke clean emotion in the dirty business of life.

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