Michelangelo Frammartino’s contemplative Le Quattro Volte (“The Four Times”) is inspired the “four-fold transmigration” of souls that Pythagoras proposed: the soul passes from human to animal to vegetable to, eventually, the eternal. That’s not something you need to know going in to this delicate film and you may not leave the it with that reading of the experience, but Frammartino clearly guides us through an interconnectedness of life (and death) through this little mountain village in Italy and, by extension, throughout the world.
The film opens and ends on smoke, an almost ethereal state that feels alive as it pools and eddies in the air and is carried along by the winds, yet is also a phantom of sorts, the ghost of past states of being scattered through the world. In between we observe the day to day routine of a old, sickly shepherd (his hacking cough peppers the soundtrack) struggling to march his little herd to the hills and back and dutifully ingesting his unconventional medicine every night until one morning he doesn’t get up. The screen fades to black (the nothingness of death?) and then, in a sudden cut, is back in the world with the birth of goat and a new cycle of birth and death and birth again. There is no dialogue and no explanation but the grace with which Frammartino carries us through these lives and states suggests a connection and a continuity.
It’s also a kind of stylized documentary of existence in this village, from the day-to-day rituals of work and rest to the holiday celebrations of its inhabitants through the seasons, such as the Easter procession of the Stations of the Cross and the raising of a totem in a village festival. It’s both an embrace of the comfort of ritual and certainly and acknowledgement of the magic of the unexpected and the accidental bringing change to routine.