A philosophically-minded ode to the belief that animal, vegetable and mineral are ultimately one.

Life’s flow runs through “Le quattro volte,” a philosophically minded ode to the Pythagorean belief that animal, vegetable and mineral are ultimately one. Such is sophomore helmer Michelangelo Frammartino’s highfalutin’ concept, though it can also be seen as a handsomely lensed docu-style meditation on the rhythms of nature, featuring a herd of goats. Very kid-friendly, the wordless pic could strike some as an overly intellectualized attempt to fetishize remnant semi-pagan traditions in a picturesque corner of Italy’s Calabria province. Lovely images combined with a pseudo-anthropological overlay will spur fest pickups, but no more than that.

Le quattro volte(Italy-Germany-Switzerland)A Vivo Film, Essential Filmproduktion, Invisible Film, Ventura Film production, in collaboration with ZDF/Arte, Cinecitta Luce, RSI Televisione Svizzera. (International sales: Coproduction Office, Paris.) Produced by Marta Donzelli, Gregorio Paonessa, Susanne Marian, Philippe Bober, Gabriella Manfre, Elda Guidinetti, Andres Pfaeffli.Directed, written by Michelangelo Frammartino. Camera (color), Andrea Locatelli; editors, Benni Atria, Maurizio Grillo; production designer, Matthew Broussard; costume designer, Gabriella Maiolo; sound (Dolby Digital), Paolo Benvenuti, Simone Paolo Olivero; sound designer, Daniel Iribarren; line producer, Francesca Zanza. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors’ Fortnight), May 16, 2010. Running time: 88 MIN.With: Giuseppe Fuda, Bruno Timpano, Nazareno Timpano.By JAY WEISSBERGLife’s flow runs through “Le quattro volte,” a philosophically minded ode to the Pythagorean belief that animal, vegetable and mineral are ultimately one. Such is sophomore helmer Michelangelo Frammartino’s highfalutin’ concept, though it can also be seen as a handsomely lensed docu-style meditation on the rhythms of nature, featuring a herd of goats. Very kid-friendly, the wordless pic could strike some as an overly intellectualized attempt to fetishize remnant semi-pagan traditions in a picturesque corner of Italy’s Calabria province. Lovely images combined with a pseudo-anthropological overlay will spur fest pickups, but no more than that.Of Calabrian origin himself, Frammartino returns to the remote region of his debut feature “The Gift,” this time even more influenced by the films of Raymond Depardon and Robert Bresson, along with some of the humorous connective tissue of Gyorgy Palfi’s “Hukkle, as he seeks to track the spirit of matter itself as it moves through life’s trajectory.An elderly shepherd (Giuseppe Fuda) guides his goats to hillside pastures around his village. As night falls, he heads to the church, where the cleaner prepares a package of dust she’s swept up from around the altars (following superstition, this is his medicine). Death comes, but the sound of a heartbeat remains as the tomb is sealed, and Frammartino cuts to a baby goat dropping from its mother’s womb.Now the focus shifts from man to animal. One day in the fields, the kid gets left behind in a small ditch, bleating pathetically until it climbs out and seeks shelter under a large fir tree. From here, the pic moves to the plant realm, following the tree’s fate from noble evergreen to felled and stripped log in the service of a village pole-climbing rite to, finally, a traditional coal-making mound where wood is desiccated and turned into fuel.”Le quattro volte” can be translated as “the four times,” though “the four realms” is equally applicable as man gives way to animal, then vegetable and finally mineral; it’s all about flow — or as Elton John might croon, “the circle of life.” Supporting this primal theme is a background element of traditional Good Friday celebrations, when villagers recreate the Stations of the Cross. Though whimsically kept in the distance, their inclusion obviously references the Resurrection, just as the ingested holy dust denotes the body’s ultimate state (the goats, however, do not carry their traditional connotation as symbols of lust).While the film presents its poetic images in the manner of a laid-bare, doculike essay, it cannot escape certain manipulations. The locales are actually a mix of three villages, and the way of life depicted privileges the primitive and archaic. As such, it risks playing less like the record of dying traditions in a forgotten corner of Europe and more like an outsider’s attempt to capture the picturesque elements he finds most stimulating: A close-up of an ant on the shepherd’s face while he’s evacuating can either be seen as a part of the cyclical nature of life or an overzealous quest for all that’s scenic and primitive.Visuals are exceptionally attractive, though auds quickly realize this is the sort of film where a shot of dust in a shaft of light means the camera will descend at the pace of the particles. Andrea Locatelli’s largely stationary camera is expertly and artistically placed, whether capturing a caprine close-up or a rooftop view.

A goat symbolizes one of life’s phases in “Le quattro volte.”

Le quattro volte

Italy-Germany-Switzerland

Production

A Vivo Film, Essential Filmproduktion, Invisible Film, Ventura Film production, in collaboration with ZDF/Arte, Cinecitta Luce, RSI Televisione Svizzera. (International sales: Coproduction Office, Paris.) Produced by Marta Donzelli, Gregorio Paonessa, Susanne Marian, Philippe Bober, Gabriella Manfre, Elda Guidinetti, Andres Pfaeffli. Directed, written by Michelangelo Frammartino.

Crew

Camera (color), Andrea Locatelli; editors, Benni Atria, Maurizio Grillo; production designer, Matthew Broussard; costume designer, Gabriella Maiolo; sound (Dolby Digital), Paolo Benvenuti, Simone Paolo Olivero; sound designer, Daniel Iribarren; line producer, Francesca Zanza. Reviewed at Cannes Film Festival (Directors' Fortnight), May 16, 2010. Running time: 88 MIN.

With

Giuseppe Fuda, Bruno Timpano, Nazareno Timpano.

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