June 6, 2011
Warning: this review contains plot spoilers. However, we get the impression this won't spoil the film for you! - Ed.Literally, ‘The Four Times’: in the words of Italian director Michelangelo Frammartino, ‘Man is made of mineral, because he has a skeleton; he’s a plant, because he has blood flowing in his veins like sap; he’s an animal because he has mobility; and he’s also a rational being. So, in order to fully understand himself, man has to understand himself four times.’ This film is 88 minutes of provocative silences and calmly held shots of man and nature that allow for an infinite wealth of reflection and meditation on the human condition and our place in the universe.
We follow an old goatherd as he shepherds his goats, collects snails, religiously drinks as medicine the dust (magically photographed) collected from the church floor and eventually coughs his way to death asleep in his bedroom, surrounded by his escapee goats. His death comes at home, amidst the absurdity of a goat invasion, with one even standing defiantly on his kitchen table, having escaped after a truck carrying Roman Centurions rolled down a hill and bashed down the gate of the goat pen. This comic vignette releases us from the sadness of human death. Indeed, there is no time to mourn, human life comes and goes with the seasons, and the immediate birth of a goat kid renews hope.
Lingering shots of goat faces lend the animals character. Indeed, oddly perhaps more or comparable character to the human goatherd who defies normality by engaging in virtually complete silence and isolation. Human being’s centrality in the universe is questioned. Winter comes briefly and then a fir tree is cut down, erected in the town square, climbed and consequently chopped to pieces in a celebration that surely questions human rationality in a similar way to the Roman Centurions and even to the divine dust. Ever-flowing universal energy seems to flow from man to goat to tree to, finally, coal, which is reliably created and delivered, keeping the chain of life inextricably linked and, fundamentally, wholly interdependent.
This is a beautiful film that has deservedly won high international praise, winning Best European Film award at Cannes 2010. To me it is quintessentially Italian, finding wonder and magic in the smallest things and relying on beautifully crafted shots and the eccentricities of simple, everyday living to transport the audience and engender reflection and discussion.